5 Basic Swimming Skills Everyone Needs

Did you know that there are five basic swimming skills everyone should be able to perform in order to be considered an adequate swimmer? I didn’t.

And according to a recent survey conducted by the American Red Cross, only a bit more than half of adults (56%) who say they know how to swim are able to perform all five of these life-saving skills:

  1. Floating or treading water for one minute without the aid of a flotation device
  2. Stepping or jumping into water over your head and returning to the surface
  3. Treading water or floating in a full circle and then finding a way out of the water
  4. Exiting a pool without using a ladder (or steps)
  5. Swimming 25 yards (the length of a standard pool) without stopping

According to Red Cross water safety expert Connie Harvey, all five are absolutely necessary skills if you’re ever in a pool or open-water emergency.

Since May is water safety month, the Red Cross is doing its due diligence by encouraging people to learn to swim (REALLY learn) and to make smart choices in and around the water. This is especially important because Memorial Day means the unofficial start of summer and all kinds of water-related activities. Even though 92% of parents who took the Red Cross survey said that their child is likely to participate in water activities this summer (swimming, boating, etc.), only 20% said that their child is likely to take swim lessons during the summer months.

Harvey said these things are not “just something we think you should check off on your life-skills list” for fun; they’re imperative to know for a whole slew of reasons. It’s not people who shy away from the water who are the problem, Harvey says. It’s the people who overestimate their abilities in the water who run the most risk of endangering the lives of themselves and of others.

Child swim lessons


Here are a few other findings from that same Red Cross survey:

    • 46% of 1,024 adults surveyed say they have had a near-drowning experience
    • 20% say they know someone who nearly drown
    • 10% say they know someone who drown


There is a large disparity between the water-preparedness of people of color and Caucasians. While 51% of whites say they can perform all five of those basic swimming skills, only 33% of black adults can say the same.

84% of all whites say they can swim as opposed to 69% of blacks.

A 2010 study commissioned by the USA Swimming Foundation looking at swimming abilities of minority children found that only 30% or black children and 40% of Hispanic children have adequate swimming ability as opposed to 60% of white children.


    • Only 39% of parents of children 4-7 said that their children could perform all five basic swimming skills
    • 30% of adults who can’t swim say a fear of water is what keeps them from learning
    • 56% of adults who say they can swim say they’ve never had a professional lesson; 37% say they taught themselves

swimming on back


Is there a solution being put in place to help spread these five basic swimming skills across the US? The Red Cross is prepared to jump into action starting as soon as this summer. They’re launching a project called “The Centennial Campaign” whose lofty goal is to “cut downing rates in half” across the US.

The Centennial Campaign will travel to 50 cities where fatal drownings and drowning rates are inordinately high—some higher than the national average. They will take the next three to five years to teach swim lessons, initiate water-safety education programs, and take time to train life guards and water-safety instructors. They will work to urge families to make sure they and their families are capable swimmers.

Whether you're putting your kids in swim lessons or planning on hitting the water yourself, BE SURE that your swimming skills are adequate. This includes reviewing and making sure you and your children can do each of the five basic swim skills easily and without distress. They could save your life.

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