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Little is known about the relationship between real and perceived water competence among youth in the context of drowning prevention or of their perceptions of their risk of drowning. This study reports the findings of an international project entitled Can You Swim? Collegiate physical education students (n = 373) were assessed in a two-part study using an initial questionnaire survey to provide self-estimates of water competency and risk perception, followed by six practical tests in the water. Correlation coefficients between perceived and real swimming (rs = 0.369) and floating (rs = 0.583) skills were significant but only moderate in strength. No significant gender differences in real or perceived water competency were found. Significantly more males than females estimated lower risk of drowning associated with a series of aquatic scenarios (p = 0.016). The implications of these findings on drowning prevention and the need for further investigation are discussed.
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122
International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 2012, 6, 122-135
© 2012 Human Kinetics, Inc.
Can You Swim?
An Exploration of Measuring Real
and Perceived Water Competency
Kevin Moran, Robert Keig Stallman, Per-Ludvik Kjendlie,
Dagmar Dahl, Jennifer D. Blitvich, Lauren A. Petrass,
G. Keith McElroy, Toshiaki Goya, Keisuke Teramoto,
Atsunori Matsui, and Shuji Shimongata
Little is known about the relationship between real and perceived water competence
among youth in the context of drowning prevention or of their perceptions of their
risk of drowning. This study reports the ndings of an international project entitled
Can You Swim? Collegiate physical education students (n = 373) were assessed
in a two-part study using an initial questionnaire survey to provide self-estimates
of water competency and risk perception, followed by six practical tests in the
water. Correlation coefcients between perceived and real swimming (rs = 0.369)
and oating (rs = 0.583) skills were signicant but only moderate in strength. No
signicant gender differences in real or perceived water competency were found.
Signicantly more males than females estimated lower risk of drowning associated
with a series of aquatic scenarios (p = 0.016). The implications of these ndings
on drowning prevention and the need for further investigation are discussed.
While the role of swimming prociency in drowning prevention may appear
axiomatic, its protective capacity is not well understood. Brenner, Saluja, and
Smith (2003) have argued that increased swimming competency is almost certain
to be protective in a drowning situation and, if so, then differences in swimming
competency may help explain why some are at greater risk of drowning than others.
The relationship between swimming competency, swimming lessons, and the risk
of drowning for young children has been the subject of some inquiry (Brenner,
Moran, Stallman, Gilchrist, & McVan, 2006), but little is known about this rela-
tionship with respect to young adults, one of the most at-risk groups of drowning
in most developed countries.
A systematic, large-scale review of childhood and youth drowning noted that
even though studies have shown that swimming lessons improved the ability to dive,
Kevin Moran is with the University of Auckland, Faculty of Education in Auckland, New Zealand. Robert
Keig Stallman is with the Norwegian School of Sport Science in Oslo Norway. Per-Ludvik Kjendlie
is with Vestfold University College in Oslo Norway. Dagmar Dahl is with Alta University College in
Finnmark, Norway. Jennifer Blitvich, Lauren Petrass, and G. Keith McElroy are with the University of
Ballarat, School of Human Movement and Sport Sciences in Ballarat, Victoria Australia. Toshiaki Goya
and Keisuke Teramoto are with the Aichi University of Education, Department of Health and Physical
Education in Aichi, Japan. Atsunori Matsui is with the Naruto University of Education in Japan. Shuji
Shimongata is with Chiba University in Chiba, Japan.
Can You Swim? 123
swim underwater, breathe correctly, and tread water, no study had examined the
more important question of whether swimming lessons actually prevented drowning
(Harborview Injury Prevention and Research Centre, 2001). All of these capacities
have some association with survival in water, but determining their individual or
collective protective capacity remains unclear. Recent studies have suggested a
positive relationship between swimming instruction in children of preschool age.
Brenner and colleagues (2009) reported that participation in formal swimming
lessons was associated with an 88% reduction in the risk of drowning in 1–4-year-
old children, although the estimates were imprecise and 95% condence intervals
(CIs) included risk reductions ranging from 3% to 99%. Successes have recently
been reported in low and middle income countries (LMICs) among children in
rural settings (Linnan, Rahman, Rahman, Scarr, & Cox, 2011; Rahman, Rahman,
Mashreky, & Linnan, 2011).
Determining whether the swimming prociency reported in many studies has an
ameliorating effect on drowning risk is difcult to ascertain for two reasons. First, in
the context of drowning prevention, there is no universally agreed denition among
water safety experts as to what constitutes swimming competency. Hogg, Kilpat-
rick, and Ruddock (1983) highlight two essential aspects of swimming: otation to
permit breathing and propulsion to provide mobility. Swimming competency is often
described in terms of distance swum, but even then, various distances have been used
to assess competency. Many water safety initiatives establish arbitrary distances from
25 m to 200 m to identify “can swim” status. Langendorfer and Bruya (1995) have
suggested that the term water competence is a more comprehensive term than swim-
ming ability and better describes the raft of aquatic skills and knowledge associated
with aquatic activity. In support of establishing more embracing terminology, Brenner
and colleagues recommended that “the concept of swimming ability be replaced by
the more encompassing notion of water competence with regards to drowning preven-
tion” and that “swimming ability be promoted as a necessary component of water
competence, but with the understanding that swimming ability alone is not sufcient
to prevent drowning” (Brenner et al., 2006, p.116). Consequently, this study adopted
the more comprehensive notion of water competency to describe a set of survival
skills that may prevent drowning.
Second, much of the drowning prevention research has relied on self-estimates
of water competence because of the difculties associated with in-water testing of
real competencies. The value of self-estimation in the reporting of health behaviors,
quite appropriately, has been challenged (Mickalide, 1997; Nelson, 1996; Robertson,
1992; Watson, Kendrick, & Coupland, 2003), but nevertheless it has been widely
used in drowning prevention studies. A major problem with the reliance on self-
estimates of water competencies is the tendency for males to overestimate their
ability and underestimate the risk of drowning. Howland, Hingson, Mangione, Bell,
and Bak (1996) suggest that males probably overestimate their swimming ability
and are thus more likely to place themselves at greater risk than females in aquatic
settings. In a study of New Zealand youth, Moran (2006) found that signicantly
more young males than females aged 15–19 years estimated better swimming ability
and lower estimates of risk of drowning. Similar results of higher self-estimated
swimming competency among males have been reported in young adults (Gulliver
& Begg, 2005) and in adults (Gilchrist, Sacks, & Branche, 2000; Howland et al.,
1996; McCool, Moran, Ameratunga, & Robinson, 2008), but whether this compe-
tency is real or imagined is unknown.
124 Moran et al.
Previous research has suggested that in addition to overestimating swimming
prociency, males and youth may underestimate the potential dangers inherent
in aquatic activities (Baker, O’Neil, Ginsburg, & Li, 1992; Brenner et al., 2003;
Howland et al., 1996; McCool et al., 2008; Moran, 2006). Moran (2006) found
that male youth were more likely to report lower perceptions of drowning risk
associated with a range of specic water safety-related scenarios. A study of adult
beachgoers found that higher perceived swimming competency was associated
with lower perception of risk, which raises the possibility that some individuals
(especially young males) may be overly optimistic about their ability to manage
risky situations (McCool et al., 2008).
The lack of consensus among experts as to what constitutes water competency
in a drowning prevention context and the dependence on self-reported estimation
rather than objective measurement in water safety research has meant that much
of our understanding on the protective role of swimming in drowning prevention
is speculative. Consequently, the purposes of this study were to
1. Obtain self-estimates of a range of water competencies that include swimming
and survival skills among young adults;
2. Establish and administer a set of practical tests of the same water competencies;
3. Explore the relationship between real and perceived competencies and the
implications of any over/underestimation of such skills among young adults;
and
4. Identify perceptions of drowning risk among young adults and any relationship
between risk estimation and actual water competencies.
Method
Following workshop discussions that focused on dening and measuring swim-
ming competency in the context of drowning prevention at the World Water Safety
Conference in Oporto, Portugal, 2007, a pilot study was initiated in New Zealand
at the University of Auckland (KM) and in Norway at the Norwegian School of
Sports Science (RS, DD, P-LK). The intention of the pilot study was to identify key
components of swimming competency, establish protocols for their practical assess-
ment, create a questionnaire that reported on self-perceptions of water competency,
and provide personal estimates of the risk of drowning. These developments were
underpinned by a conceptual model of water competencies based on the causes
of drowning (Stallman, Junge, & Blixt, 2008). Further trials were undertaken at
the University of Ballarat (JB, LP, KMcE) in Australia and at three institutions in
Japan at Aichi, Naruto, and Chiba (TG, KT, AM, SS). Researchers at each of the
participating institutions obtained ethics clearance from their institutional review
boards before the commencement of the testing. All institutions had their own
swimming pools that varied from 25m-50m in length, were heated (27–28 °C), and
had deep water (2 m+) available for testing underwater activities.
Participants
University students newly enrolled in Physical Education programs were invited
to voluntarily participate in a project entitled Can You Swim? Participants had
Can You Swim? 125
undergone preliminary selection processes to enter their respective programs and
in one case (Norway), minimal entry standards for swimming competency were
required. The participants, their swimming skills, and aquatic experience were
not known to the members of the research team. It was anticipated that because of
their selection into a physical education-related degree program, all participants
would be able to safely participate in the study. Participants whose safety was at
risk were screened out of the study based on responses to the questionnaire before
the practical testing.
Procedures
The study consisted of two phases of data gathering: an initial self-complete ques-
tionnaire followed by practical swimming assessment. To avoid possible learning
effects from participation in aquatic-related courses, all data gathering took place
before the commencement of course work. Participants were unaware when com-
pleting the questionnaire that the skills included in the practical tests paralleled those
in the survey. Practical testing took place within a week of completing the written
survey. Unique identication codes were allocated to enable survey responses to
be matched with the practical test results. The data were manually entered into the
database using Microsoft Excel 2007 and data entry errors identied and corrected
before being exported to statistical software for analysis.
Research Instruments
The rst phase of data collection consisted of a 20-question survey that sought
self-estimates in six aspects of swimming and survival skills (i.e., distance swim,
otation, swim on back, dive entry, surface dive, and underwater swim) considered
relevant to drowning prevention. Participants also rated their risk of drowning in
ve scenarios (such as “tipped upside down in a canoe 100 m from the shore of
a lake”) using a four-point Likert scale ranging from extreme risk to no risk. The
questionnaire also sought information on sociodemographic variables including
gender, age, and ethnicity.
The second phase of data gathering consisted of practical testing of swimming
and survival skills that matched the questionnaire items to enable the relationship
between self-reported and actual swimming and survival competencies to be deter-
mined. The skills tested included
• distance swum nonstop in 15 min with no stroke or speed specied (distance
achieved assessed on a 5-point scale ranging from < 50 m to > 300 m);
• stationary oating in deep water with minimal swimming motion (4-point scale
ranging from < 2 min to > 15 min, and
• an underwater swim (5-point scale ranging from did not complete to completed
25 m).
For all other tests that included (a) 100 m swim on back with no speed or stroke
specied, (b) dive into deep water, and (c) a deep water surface dive, a 4-point scale
from did not complete, completed with poor form (great difculty, difculty), with
good form (easily), and with excellent form (very easily) was used.
126 Moran et al.
Data Analysis
Data from the completed questionnaires were entered into SPSS Version 17 in
Windows. Data were then analyzed to provide statistical information at a national
level before being combined to provide an international database using the same
coding and data entry procedures. Frequencies and percentages were calculated
to describe student self-estimates and actual measures of their swimming and sur-
vival skill competencies and their perceived risk of drowning. Mann-Whitney U
tests were used to ascertain signicant differences between independent variables
(such as gender) on dependent measures (such as estimated swimming or oating
competency). Kruskall-Wallis H tests were used to analyze data (such as age group)
that had multiple levels of comparison. Spearman rank correlation coefcients were
obtained to determine signicant associations between real and perceived skills.
Data Presentation
Regional results from each participating country have been reported previously
at the World Drowning Prevention in Da Nang for New Zealand (Moran, 2011),
Norway (Stallman, Dahl, Moran, & Kjendlie, 2011), Australia (Blitvich, Petrass,
Moran, & McElroy, 2011), and Japan (Goya, Matsui, Teramoto, Shimongata &
Moran, 2011). The results reported in this paper relate to the combined results of
the six contributing institutions in four countries. While some regional variations
in results were evident, they are not the focus of this paper and will be the subject
of future investigation and publication. Analysis of real and perceived swimming
and survival skills by ethnicity was not undertaken because of the homogeneity of
most groups taking part in the study.
Results
Of the 373 rst year university students who volunteered to take part in the study,
slightly more than half (53%) were male, one half (50%) were between the ages
17–19 years, and the other half (50%) were between the ages 20–29 years. They
were residents of New Zealand (n = 68; 18%), Norway (n = 81; 22%), Australia
(n = 112; 30%), and Japan (n = 113; 30%).
Perceived Swimming and Survival Skills
More than half (53%) of students estimated that they could swim nonstop for a
distance of more than 300 m, and one quarter (27%) estimated that they could swim
100 m or less (Table 1). More than one half (54%) considered that they could not
oat in deep water for more than 6 min. Most students estimated that they could
swim 100 m on their back (82%), dive into the deep end of the pool (90%), swim
25 m underwater (62%), and surface dive to a depth of 2 m (74%). No signicant
differences were found in self-estimates of water competencies when analyzed by
gender or age group as shown in Table 1.
Real Swimming and Survival Skills
Most students (76%) were able to swim more than 300 m nonstop, and two
thirds (67%) were able to satisfactorily swim 100 m on their backs (Table 2).
127
Table 1 Student Self-Estimated Water Competencies by Gender
Total Male Female Mann-
Whitney U p
n % n % n %
How many nonstop laps of a 25m pool can you swim?
< 50 m 61 16.4 29 14.6 32 18.5
16624.50 0.548
51–100 m 38 10.2 25 12.6 13 7.5
101–200 m 41 11.0 17 8.5 24 13.8
201–300 m 34 9.1 20 10.1 14 8.1
> 300m 198 53.2 108 54.3 90 52.0
How long can you stay aoat?
< 2 min 125 33.8 71 35.9 54 31.4
16015.00 0.314
2–6 min 74 20.0 37 18.7 37 21.5
7–15 min 63 17.0 30 15.2 33 19.2
> 15 min 108 29.2 60 30.3 48 27.9
Can you swim 100m on your back?
Yes, can swim 100 m nonstop back 306 82.3 159 80.3 147 84.7 16506.00 0.293
No, can’t swim 100 m nonstop back 66 17.7 39 19.7 27 15.5
Can you dive into deep end of pool?
Yes, can dive headrst into pool 335 89.8 183 92.0 152 87.4 16516.00 0.143
No, can’t dive headrst into pool 38 10.2 16 8.0 22 12.6
Can you swim underwater?
Yes, can swim underwater 232 62.2 125 62.8 107 61.5 17084.50 0.793
No, can’t swim underwater 141 37.8 74 37.2 67 38.5
Can you surface dive to a depth of 2 m?
Yes, can surface dive to 2 m 274 73.5 151 78.2 123 74.5 15334.50 0.412
No, can’t surface dive to 2 m 84 22.5 42 21.8 42 25.5
Total 373#100% 199 53.4% 174 46.6%
#Missing data accounts for the variation in subtotals.
128
Table 2 Student Water Competencies by Gender
Total Male Female Mann-
Whitney
U p
n
%
n
%
n
%
Swimming Ability
< 50 m 21 5.7 12 6.1 9 5.2
10.066 0.185
50–100 m 27 7.3 15 7.7 12 6.9
101–200 m 19 5.1 16 8.2 3 1.7
201–300 m 20 5.4 10 5.1 10 5.8
> 300 m 282 76.4 143 73.0 139 80.3
Floating ability
< 2 min 127 35.2 73 38.4 54 31.6
9.124 0.244
2–6 min 47 13.0 28 14.7 19 11.1
7–15 min 43 11.9 21 11.1 22 12.9
> 15 min 144 39.9 68 35.8 76 44.4
100 m swim on back
Did not complete 47 13.2 27 14.4 20 11.9
11.234 0.024*
Completed with poor form 72 20.2 47 25.0 25 14.9
Completed with satisfactory form 101 28.4 56 29.8 45 26.8
Completed with good/excellent
form
136 38.2 58 30.8 78 46.3
Dive into pool (2 m depth)
Did not complete 20 5.6 10 5.3 10 6.1
6.933 0.139
Completed with poor form 104 29.4 59 31.1 45 27.4
Completed with satisfactory form 127 35.9 76 40.0 51 31.1
Completed with good/excellent
form
103 29.1 45 23.7 58 35.4
Underwater Swim
Did not complete 28 7.8 13 6.8 15 8.8
1.590 0.811
Completed 10 meters 70 19.4 35 18.3 35 20.6
Completed 15 meters 70 19.4 37 19.4 33 19.4
Completed 20 meters 59 16.3 30 15.7 29 17.1
Completed 25 meters 134 37.1 76 39.8 58 34.1
Surface dive 2 m
Did not complete 18 5.0 5 2.6 13 7.7
7.549 0.110
Completed with poor form 48 13.4 29 15.2 19 11.3
Completed with satisfactory form 166 46.2 94 49.2 72 42.9
Completed with good/excellent
form
127 35.4 63 33.0 64 38.1
Total 373#100.0 199 100.0 174 100.0
#Missing data accounts for the variation in subtotals
Can You Swim? 129
Proportionally fewer students (40%) could oat for 15 min and more than one third
could not stay aoat for more than 2 min (35%).
When analyzed by gender, no signicant differences were found in distance
swimming or oating skill, but signicantly more females than males were able to
swim on their backs with satisfactory or good/excellent form (females 73%; males
61%). Most students completed a dive entry (65%), a 15–25 m underwater swim
(73%), and a surface dive (82%) with satisfactory or good/excellent form. Table
2 shows no signicant differences in student performance of these items when
analyzed by gender. Further analysis by age also found no signicant differences
in tested water competencies.
Real Versus Perceived Swimming and Survival Skills
To test the association between perceived and real competencies, data from the self-
complete questionnaire and the practical tests were subjected to Spearman RHO
correlation analyses (Table 3). The correlation coefcient between perceived and
real swim distance was signicant, but only moderate (rs = 0.369; de Vaus, 2002).
A more substantial correlation was found between real and perceived oating
competency (rs = 0.583). Differences between real and perceived competency for
the 100 m on the back was signicant but low (rs = 0.191). All other comparisons
were not signicant at the 0.01 level (two-tailed).
When comparisons were analyzed by gender, males showed slightly greater
association than females in their predictions of their swim distance competency
(males, rs = 0.408, females, rs = 0.315) and oating ability (males, rs = 0.601 females,
rs = 0.569), but no other comparisons were statistically signicant.
Perceptions of the Risk of Drowning
Participants were asked to estimate their risk of drowning in relation to ve scenarios
depicting differing levels of risk. Table 4 shows that male and female responses
to these scenarios were not signicantly different for the low risk activity of deep
Table 3 Comparisons of Estimated and Actual Water Competencies Using
Spearman Rank Correlations
Swim
Estimate
Float
Estimate
Backstroke
Estimate
Dive Entry
Estimate
Under-
Water Swim
Estimate
Surface
Dive
Estimate
Swim 0.369*
Float 0.583*
Backstroke –.191*
Dive entry –.092
Underwater
swim
–.134
Surface dive 0.059
* Correlation is signicant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed)
130
Table 4 Perceptions of Risk of Drowning by Gender
Risk Scenario
Extreme/High Risk Slight/No Risk
Mann-Whitney U P
Male Female Male Female
n(%) n(%) n(%) n(%)
Capsized canoe 100 meters
offshore
47
(23.6%)
53
(30.8%)
152
(76.4%)
119
(69.2%)
15380.50 0.073
Caught in rip current at surf
beach
102
(51.8%)
110
(63.6%)
95
(48.2%)
63
(36.4%)
14447.00 0.008*
Chased toy into deep end of
swimming pool
7
(3.5%)
11
(6.4%)
191
(96.5%)
162
(93.6%)
15768.00 0.092
Fell into deep river when
fully clothed
57
(28.6%)
74
(42.8%)
142
(71.4%)
99
(57.2%)
14897.50 0.016*
Swept off isolated rocks
while shing
159
(79.9%)
139
(80.4%)
40
(20.1%)
34
(19.6%)
16421.50 0.411
Risk Total 14577.50 0.016*
Can You Swim? 131
water exposure in a swimming pool, the moderate risk activity of a canoe capsize
100 m offshore, and the high risk activity of being swept off isolated rocks when
shing. In all scenarios, females reported higher risk estimates than males and,
when summated, the overall risk of drowning score was signicantly different
with female estimation of risk being greater than that of males (Mann-Whitney U
= 14577.50, p = 0.016).
In the higher risk scenarios, signicantly more females than males considered
they would be at extreme/high risk if caught in a rip current at a surf beach (females,
64%; males, 52%) or through falling into a deep river fully clothed (females, 43%;
males, 29%). No signicant differences were found when individual risk scenarios
and the total risk score were analyzed by age.
Discussion
This collaborative international study examined, among other factors associated
with the role of swimming in drowning prevention, students’ self-estimated and
actual water competencies, together with their perceptions of the risk of drowning.
It is the rst study of its kind that attempts to compare perceived water competency
with real water competency and does so among an age group recognized to be at
high risk of drowning. Comparisons between the practical skills assessment and the
paired self-estimation of practical skills demonstrated that these students had varied
and somewhat inaccurate perceptions of their swimming and survival competencies.
As was to be expected from a cohort selected for a program where aquatic
activities were an ongoing part of their professional development, most students
had a sound aquatics skill base, though skill levels were not consistently high. Why
the association between estimated and actual distance swimming appears to be
uniformly high compared with other skills is hard to explain, but it may reect the
emphasis placed on swimming distances as opposed to performing other survival
skills in the teaching of aquatics. Given the popularity for aquatic recreation in
the countries taking part in the study, it is a concern that more than one third of
students (35%) could not stay aoat for > 2 min and almost half (48%) could not
stay aoat for more than 6 min, a duration not unlikely in the event of an aquatic
emergency necessitating rescue or assistance.
Students tended to underestimate their distance swimming skills, oating
competency, surface dive capacity, while overestimating their competency for swim-
ming on the back, performing a dive entry, and underwater swimming. The lack of
strong association between real and perceived swimming and oating competencies
and a tendency to overestimate their ability to swim on their backs, suggests that
many students could not accurately predict their performance in these fundamental
water competencies. No other real versus perceived competencies reached statisti-
cally signicant associations, which again suggests that students had difculty in
accurately predicting their likely performance outcome. Unlike other studies on
drowning where self-estimates of swimming competency differed between males
and females (Quan & Cummings, 2003), the current study found no signicant
gender differences in self-estimates or actual swimming ability, except for the ability
to swim 100 m on the back, where females demonstrated higher prociency than
males (73% and 61% for females and males, respectively, p = 0.024).
132 Moran et al.
While the swimming and survival skill levels of this selected cohort were high,
not surprisingly, it is of interest that students of physical education did not predict
their performance more accurately. Since physical performance is an area of pro-
fessional inquiry for this cohort, it is not unreasonable to assume that they would
possess a heightened awareness of their own physical skills and prociencies. If
so, their lack of accuracy in estimating swimming and survival competencies does
not bode well for the exploration of swimming competency via self-estimation in
more generalized populations. Further research is required to determine whether the
lack of accurate prediction is unique to this population or whether a similar lack of
accuracy in the self-estimation of aquatic skills is characteristic of other populations.
The widespread use of estimates of swimming capacity, either by self or
signicant others (such as instructors, teachers, or parents), in recent drowning
prevention literature (for example, in children, Fife & Goldoft, 1994; in youth,
Moran, 2006; in young adults, Gulliver & Begg, 2005; and in adults, Howland et
al., 1996; Gilchrist et al., 2000; Mael, 1995) is understandable given the difculties
of assessing “real” water competencies along with the lack of a robust, accepted
denition of what constitutes swimming competency. The lack of strong correla-
tion between real and perceived water competencies in the context of drowning
prevention found in the current study, however, suggests that caution should be
exercised in any interventions based on estimated rather than actual competency.
The ndings in relation to perception of the risk of drowning among youth
offers support for previous research (Howland et al., 1996; McCool et al., 2008;
Moran, 2006), which has argued that young male adults may underestimate the
potential dangers inherent in aquatic activities. Males in the current study consis-
tently reported lower perceptions of drowning risk even though their swimming and
survival skills were not signicantly better than their female counterparts. It may
also be that the higher estimates of drowning risk among females reect greater
risk aversion than their male counterparts, providing them with greater protection
in and around water. The ndings of lower estimations of drowning risk among
males in this study offer one possible explanation as to why more male youth drown
than females. While the current study did not nd evidence of male overestimation
of water competency, similar studies of actual swimming, and survival competen-
cies with other groups (such as male adolescents and adults) would be valuable in
refuting or conrming previous speculation that higher male risk of drowning is
predicated on a propensity to underestimate risk and overestimate ability to manage
that risk (Howland et al., 1996; McCool et al., 2008; Moran, 2006).
Results from this study should be interpreted with some caution in light of
several methodological limitations. First, the study conned its self-estimated and
practical assessment of swimming and survival competencies to beginner students
embarking on a professional degree in Physical Education. It is therefore likely
that their estimates of swimming competency might be more accurate than the
general youth population. It would also be anticipated, given their chosen career
development, that their incoming swimming competency would be greater than that
of other youth, and this greater competency might accurately reect their ability
to cope with the risk of drowning.
Second, the study was conducted in four countries and required translation
of the written survey and practical test protocols into three languages; they conse-
Can You Swim? 133
quently may have been subject to different local interpretations, thus reducing the
validity of the survey and test protocols. Third, practical testing took place at six
different pool locations that differed in pool length, depth of water, time availability,
water temperature, and ambient conditions (both indoor and outdoor pools were
used). These differences may have affected practical performance. Fourth, since
different examiners were used to assess performance and no intertester objectivity
tests were possible before commencing testing, it is possible that protocols were
applied and evaluated differently at the various sites. Fifth, there is no universal
denition or measurement of swimming and survival skill in the context of drown-
ing prevention, further work is required on what being able to swim really means.
Sixth, and nally, this was a rst attempt at developing a universal measure of
water competency. Certainly the tests require renement and further reliability and
objectivity testing with other groups and other testers to ensure their robustness.
Notwithstanding these limitations, the results provide fresh evidence on the modest
relationships observed between real and perceived water competencies.
Conclusion
This paper reports on the rst phase of an international study, part of which
attempted to identify the relationships between real and perceived water competency
and perceptions of risk of drowning. The results suggest that participants in this
study were unable to accurately predict their actual swimming and survival skills,
and no signicant differences were evident in perceived or actual competency by
gender. Males were more likely to underestimate the risk associated with aquatic
activities, reinforcing previous research ndings. Further investigation using similar
methodology is required to determine whether these ndings would be replicated
in other general youth populations to ascertain whether others can accurately
assess their water competency. Until these relationships have been more clearly
determined, caution is advised on the use of self-reported estimates of swimming
and survival competency in the context of drowning prevention. In addition, further
study on drowning risk estimation among other at-risk groups (especially males)
may help explain current drowning statistics.
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Incl. bibl., app., index, exercises. 3rd ed. (1993) also available.
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Data from state telephone surveys of self-reported seatbelt use, driving while intoxicated, and drinking five or more alcoholic drinks at one sitting were compared with objectively observed belt use in traffic and evidence of blood alcohol in fatally injured drivers. Self-reported belt use overstates actual use by more than 20 percentage points on average. Self-reported alcohol use is not predictive of the percentage of fatally injured drivers with evidence of blood alcohol among the states.