Water Competencies Research

Traditionally, swimming ability is taught to prevent drowning. In 2007 the International Life Saving Federation (ILSF), released a position statement regarding ‘Swimming and Water Safety Education’ which highlighted the importance of the inclusion of water safety knowledge.

International research (Stallman, Moran, Quan, & Langendorfer, 2017) provides evidence of 15 water competencies that integrate the physical, cognitive, and affective attributes needed to prevent drowning.

Our eLearning platform includes practical application of the 15 water competencies.

The evidence base for water competency

The reference lists below relates to recent research that informs the promotion of water competency in New Zealand. Wherever possible, the research reported has been conducted in a New Zealand setting so as to best to inform the evidence-based promotion of drowning prevention by all individuals and organisations. Where evidence is not available locally, peer reviewed sources from published overseas studies have been cited.

Our own Teresa Stanley has recently completed her doctoral studies on one of the Water Competencies listed below (13. Assessing Personal Competency). The research examines the gaps between how competent adults think they are in open water, and how good they actually are. Some of this research is listed below.

For a more complete review of the international evidence base for water competence, it is recommended that main source of information can be found in the following freely available articles:

REFERENCES

Stallman, R.K., Moran, K., Quan, L., & Langendorfer, S. (2017). From swimming skill to water competence: Towards a more inclusive drowning prevention future. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 2(3), 1-35. Published online 7 October 2017.

Langendorfer, S.J., Moran, K., & Stallman, R.K. (2018). Guiding Principles: Applying water competence to drowning preventionInternational Journal of Aquatic Research and Education 11(2), Article 22. Published online 30 October.

Stallman, R.K., Moran, K., Brenner, R.A., & Rahman, A.(2014). Swimming and water survival competence. In J.J.L.M. Bierens (Ed.) Drowning: Prevention, rescue, treatment (Part III, pp.197-206), 2 Edition. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag GmbH & Co.KG.

Moran, K. (2013). Defining ‘swim and survive’ in the context of New Zealand drowning prevention strategies: A discussion paper. Auckland: WaterSafe Auckland.

Water Safety New Zealand’s Water Skills for Life Framework incorporates many of these competencies.

WATER COMPETENCIES FOR DROWNING PREVENTION

Water Competency 1: Safe Entry
Enter the water safely in different situations and know where you are going to exit before entering. The type of entry technique you use will depend on your own experience, the water depth and environment you’re in.

Moran, K. (2013). Jumping to (fatal) conclusions: An analysis of video film on a social networking web site of recreational jumping from height into water. International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion, 21(1), 47-53. Published online 21 January 2013.

Moran, K. (2008). Taking the Plunge: Diving Risk Practices and Perceptions of New Zealand Youth. Health Promotion Journal of Australia, 19(1), 68-71.

Moran K., Blitvich, J.D., Petrass, L.A., & McElroy, G.K. (2021). Can You Get in (Safely)? Practice and perceptions of safe water entry among young adults. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education: Vol. 13: No. 2, Article 4.

Water Competency 2: Breath Control
Increasing or decreasing the amount of air in our lungs can help us to sink or float. Closing your mouth when entering cold water will help prevent a gasp reflex, and slower, deeper breaths will assist in reducing panic in an emergency

Stallman, R.K., Junge M, & Blixt T. (2008). The teaching of swimming based on a model derived from the causes of drowning. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 2(4), 372-382.

Junge, M., Blixt, T., & Stallman, R. (2010). The construct validity of a traditional 25m test of swimming competence. In P-L. Kjendlie, R. Stallman, and J. Cabri, (Eds.) Proceedings of the XI Int. Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming, pp. 331-32, 16- 19th June, Norwegian School of Sports Science, Oslo.

Water Competency 3: Floating - Stationary surface competencies
The stationary surface water competency refers to floating (on front or back) and treading water. It is essential to be able to keep your airways out of the water.

Barwood, M. J., Bates, V., Long, G., & Tipton, M. J. (2011). Float first”: Trapped air between clothing layers significantly improves buoyancy after immersion. , 5(2), 147-163.

Barwood, M. J., Corbett, J., Tipton, M., Wagstaff, C., & Massey, H. (2017). Habituation of the cold shock response is inhibited by repeated anxiety: implications for safety behaviour on accidental cold water immersions. Physiology & behavior, 174, 10-17.

Barwood, M., Massey, H. C., & Tipton, M. J. (2018). “Float First”:: evidence-base for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution’s “Respect the Water” Campaign.

Barwood, M. J., Burrows, H., Cessford, J., & Goodall, S. (2016). “Float first and kick for your life”: Psychophysiological basis for safety behaviour on accidental short-term cold water immersion. Physiology & behavior, 154, 83-89.

Moran, K. (2019). Can You Float? Part I – Perceptions and practice of unsupported flotation competency among young adultsInternational Journal of Aquatic Research and Education: Vol. 10: No. 4, Article 5 DOI: 10.25035/ijare10.04.04 Published online 30 Jan 2019.

Moran, K. (2019). Can you float? Part 2-Perceptions and practice of lifejacket use among young adults. International journal of aquatic research and education, 11(3), 4.

Water Competency 4: Water orientation competencies
Orientation in the water means being able to move around both horizontally and vertically. For example, if you were floating on your back, then wanted to get upright to stand up in a pool or to get in a better position to look for any hazards in your way.

Junge, M., Blixt, T., & Stallman, R. (2010). The construct validity of a traditional 25m test of swimming competence. In P-L. Kjendlie, R. Stallman, and J. Cabri, (Eds.) Proceedings of the XI Int. Symposium for Biomechanics and Medicine in Swimming, pp. 331-32, 16- 19th June, Norwegian School of Sports Science, Oslo.

Stallman, R.K., Junge M, & Blixt T. (2008). The teaching of swimming based on a model derived from the causes of drowning. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 2(4), 372-382.

Water Competency 5: Swimming competencies
Swimming skills change throughout your life based on experience and fitness. Navigating rough water or currents requires a different ability to being able to swim a length of a pool.
Make sure you have a level of competency that is appropriate to the conditions. It’s also really important to learn and practise survival strokes.

Moran, K., Stallman, R.K. Kjendlie, P-L., Dahl, D., Blitvich, J.D., Petrass, L.A., McElroy, G.K., Goya, T., Teramoto, K., Matsui, A., & Shimongata, S. (2012). Can you swim? Real and perceived water competency among young adults. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 6(2), 122-135. 

Petrass, L.A., Blitvich, J.D., McElroy, K., Harvey, J., & Moran, K. (2012). Can you swim? Self-report and actual swimming competence among young adults in Ballarat, Australia. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, Education, 6(2), 136-148. 

Goya, T., Teramoto, K., Matsui, A., Shimongata, S., Doi, Y., & Moran, K. (2011). Real and perceived swimming ability, perceptions of drowning risk among teachers college students. Bulletin of Aichi University of Education, 60(3), 35-46.  

Stallman, R.K., Moran, K., Brenner, R.A., & Rahman, A.(2014). Swimming and water survival competence. In J.J.L.M. Bierens (Ed.) Drowning: Prevention, rescue, treatment (Part III, pp.197-206), 2 Edition. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag GmbH & Co.KG.

Brenner, R.A., Moran, K., Stallman, RK., Gilchrist, J., & McVan, J. (2006). Swimming ability and the risk of drowning. In J.J.L.M Bierens (Ed.), Handbook on Drowning: Prevention, rescue treatment, Chapter 3.8.1. pp.112-117. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.

Water Competency 6: Underwater competencies
Knowing how to swim underwater can prepare you for worst case scenarios such as swimming away from a fire, under a water slick or boat, or for retrieving submerged objects or an unconscious person. For example, Dolphin dives are best for entering the surf and diving under fast dumping waves. Duck dives are good in deeper water when retrieving objects and to dive under large breaking waves.

Pearn, J.H., Franklin, R., & Peden, A.E. (2015) Hypoxic Blackout: Diagnosis, risks, prevention. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 9(3), 342-47.

Franklin, R.C., Peden, A.E., & Pearn, J.H. (2018). Drowning deaths in Australia caused by hypoxic blackout, 2002–2015. Medical Journal of Australia, 208(6), 271. Published online 2 April 2018.

Water Competency 7: Safe Exit
It is essential to check where you are going to exit before entering the water. There are a few options for exiting the water and if there’s no ladder or steps, the Push and Hook exit works well on the pool edge, rocks or a ledge.

Moran, K. (2014). Getting out of the water – how hard can that be? International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 8(4), 321-333.

Connolly, J. (2014). Drowning: The exit problem. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 8(1), 73-97.

Water Competency 8: Use of Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)
Whether you are boating, fishing, paddling, or gathering seafood, it is important that you know how to wear a lifejacket correctly (sometimes referred to as a PFD – Personal Flotation Device). It’s really important to have the correct size for each person.

Moran, K. (2019). Can You Float? Part 2 – Perceptions and practice of lifejacket competency among young adults. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 11(3), Article 4. DOI: 10.25035/ijare10.04.04 Published online 2 March 2019.

Water Competency 9: Clothed Water Competencies
While it is harder to swim and manoeuvre in water wearing clothes, it is best to keep clothing on to prevent hypothermia should you enter the water accidentally. Wet clothing becomes heavy when you try and lift it out of the water and so, if swimming when wearing clothes, survival strokes are recommended to keep your limbs under the water.

Moran, K. (2015). Can you swim in clothes? Reflections on the perception and reality of the effect of clothing on water competency. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 9(2), 116-135.

Moran, K. (2014). Can you swim in clothes? An exploratory investigation of the effect of clothing on water competency. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 8(4), 338-350. 

Barwood, M.J., Bates, V., Long, G., & Tipton, M.J. (2011). “Float first”: Trapped air between clothing layers significantly improves buoyancy after immersion. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education 5(2), 147-163.

Water Competency 10: Open Water Competencies
Open water such as the ocean, rivers, lakes, waterholes, and harbours may be cold, rough, moving, murky, aerated, or choppy, making it more challenging than in a swimming pool. Always assess personal competency before entering open water and remember that people are unlikely to achieve the same level of competency in open water as in a pool.

Kjendlie, P-L., Pedersen, T., Thoresen, T., Setlo, T., Moran, K., & Stallman, R. (2013). Can you swim in waves? Children’s swimming, floating and entry skills in calm and simulated unsteady water conditionsInternational Journal of Aquatic Research and Education7(4), 301-313. 

Bird, F., House, J.R., & Tipton, M. (2015a). Adaptation of the cold shock response and cooling rates on swimming following repeated cold-water immersions in a group of children aged 10–12 yearsInternational Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 9(2), 149-161.

Bird, F., House, J.R., & Tipton, M. (2015b). The physiological response of immersion in cold water and cooling rates during swimming in a group of children aged 10–11 yearsInternational Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 9(2), 162-174.

Water Competency 11: Knowledge of Local Hazards
As well as weather, swell, and tide forecast, you should also know about other local hazards such as water temperature, submerged objects, known currents. If you are not familiar with the location, go with someone who is and/or ask locals or lifeguards for information relevant to the area.

Moran, K., & Gilmore, A. (2018). Children’s understanding of water safety and perceptions of risk at the beach. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 53(2), 227-239. Published online 5 September. 

Pidgeon-Willcox, S. M. Kool, B, & Moran, K. (2018). Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviours of New Zealand Youth in Surf Beach EnvironmentsInternational Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 10(2), Article 6. DOI: 10.25035/ijare.10.02.06

Moran, K. (2017). Rock-based fisher safety promotion: A decade on. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 10(2), Article 1. Published online 13 June 2017.

Moran, K., & Ferner, D. (2017). Water safety and aquatic recreation among international tourists in New Zealand, International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 10(1), Article 5. Published online 13 June 2017.

Moran, K., & Willcox S. (2013). Water safety practices and perceptions of ‘new’ New Zealanders. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 7(2), 136-146. DOI: 10.25035/ijare.07.02.05

Moran, K. (2011). Rock-based fisher safety promotion: Five years on. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 5(2), 164-173. 

Moran, K., & Willcox S. (2010). New settlers, old problems: Facilitating water safety education for new residents in aquatically oriented New Zealand. Journal of the Pacific Circle Consortium of Education, 22(2), 49-60

Moran, K. (2008). Will they sink or swim? New Zealand youth water safety knowledge and skills. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 2(2), 114-127. 

Moran, K. (2008). Rock fishers’ practice and perception of water safety. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 2(2), 128-139.

Water Competency 12: Coping with Risk
Preparation is the key. It’s important to know what the hazards are, but it’s just as important to know how to cope with them. For example, knowing what do to in a rip or what tides and wind directions are best to paddle in.

Moran, K., Webber, J., & Stanley, T. (2018). Protection Motivation Theory (PMT), risk of drowning, and water safety perceptions of adult caregivers/parents, Open Sports Science Journal, 11, 50-59. Published online 31 July 2018.

Pigeon-Willcox, S., Kool, B., & Moran, K. (2018). Perceptions of the risk of drowning at surf beaches among New Zealand Youth, Injury Control & Safety Promotion. Published online 8 Feb 2018. 

Stanley, T., & Moran, K. (2018). Self-estimates of swimming and rescue competence, and the perceptions of the risk of drowning among minority groups in New Zealand – lifesaving or life threatening? Journal of Education and Human Development, 7(1), 82-91. Published online March 2018.

Stanley, T., & Moran, K. (2017). Parental perceptions of water competence and drowning risk for themselves and their children in an open water environment, International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education 10(1), Article 4. Published online 9 February 2017.

Moran, K. (2010). Risk of drowning: The iceberg phenomenon re-visited. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 4(2), 115-126.

Moran, K. (2009). Parent/caregiver perceptions and practice of water safety at the beach. International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion, 16(4), 215-221.

McCool, J.P., Ameratunga, S., Moran, K., & Robinson, E. (2009). Taking a risk perceptions approach to improving beach swimming safety. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 16(4), 360-66

Water Competency 13: Assess Personal Competency
Assessing personal competency is an ongoing requirement throughout your lifetime. Your fitness level and abilities are constantly changing over time. Before starting a new activity or returning to an old water-based hobby, it is essential to check your current level of competency in a pool or other sheltered environment. Medical checks are also recommended, especially after a break in activity.

Self-estimates of swimming and rescue competence, and the perceptions of the risk of drowning among minority groups in New Zealand – lifesaving or life threatening? Journal of Education and Human Development, 7(1), 82-91. Published online March 2018.

Moran, K. (2017). Rock-based fisher safety promotion: A decade on. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 10(2), Article 1. Published online 13 June 2017.

Stanley, T., & Moran, K. (2017). Parental perceptions of water competence and drowning risk for themselves and their children in an open water environment. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 10(1), Article 4. Published online 9 February 2017.

Stanley, T., & Moran, K. (2021). Perceptions of water competencies, drowning risk and aquatic participation among older adults. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 13(2), 6.

Water Competency 14: Recognize/Assist a Drowning Person
Know how to recognise someone in trouble in the water and what actions to take. The 4Rs: Recognise, Respond, Rescue, Revive are the four stages of bystander rescue. Check if any public rescue equipment (PRE) is available and learn how to use it.

Moran, K., Webber, J., & Stanley, T. (2016). The 4Rs of Aquatic Rescue: Educating the public about safety and risks of bystander rescue, Injury Control & Safety Promotion, 24(3), 396-405.  Published online: 16 Sep 2016.

Moran, K., & Stanley, T. (2013). Readiness to rescue: Bystander perceptions of their capacity to respond in a drowning emergency. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 7(4), 290-300.

Pearn, J.H., & Franklin, R.C. (2012). The impulse to rescue: Rescue altruism and the challenge of saving the rescuer. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 6(4), 325-335.

Water Competency 15: Water Safety Attitudes & Values
Our attitudes affect our behaviours, and it is our actual behaviours around water environments that will keep us safe or not. It’s important to instil a respect for water from a young age. Tikanga Māori includes many traditional water safety practises.

Moran, K., & Willcox S. (2013). Water safety practices and perceptions of ‘new’ New Zealanders. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 7(2), 136-146.

Moran, K. (2011). (Young) Men behaving badly: Dangerous masculinities and the risk of drowning in aquatic leisure activities, Annals of Leisure Research, 14(2-3), 260-272.

McCool, J.P., Moran, K., Ameratunga, S., & Robinson, E. (2008). New Zealand beachgoers’ swimming behaviours, swimming abilities and perception of drowning risk. International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education, 2(1), 7-15.

Moran, K. (2007). Water safety knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of young Pasifika New Zealanders. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 42(1&2), 161-169.