Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Swim Week Aims to Prevent Drownings This Summer

NBC 5 Today is featuring a series of stories this week to help keep you and your family safe in the water this summer

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Memorial Day weekend is just days away.

It's the unofficial kick-off to families spending more time in the water and a fitting time for awareness, as May is National Water Safety Month.

This week, NBC 5 is bringing back Swim Week, a series of stories to help keep you and your family safe.


One of the biggest organizations leading the mission to prevent drownings is the YMCA. All of the chapters across North Texas are driving home some eye-opening warnings every family needs to know about before heading into the summer season:

  • Drowning is the leading cause of death in children under 5.
  • Texas ranks only 2nd in the country for fatal drownings. Florida ranks number one.
  • Studies have shown that minority children are three times more likely to drown.
  • Data also shows that 60% of all African-American children are unable to swim.
  • A residential pool is 14 times more likely to take the life of a child than a car.

That's why YMCA leaders are urging parents to enroll their kids in swim lessons and make constant supervision an absolute must.

"So if you're not watching them – the time it takes you to change a baby's diaper or to send a text message or to walk inside and get another kid to have a snack – the child's on the bottom of the pool,” said Jennifer Pewitt, Associate Vice President for Aquatics for the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas.

Young children are especially at risk in any type of water, from pools to open water and even bathtubs. According to health experts, children can drown in as little as two inches of water.

"I've sat across the table from so many families in her just horror stories," said Pewitt. "I've been in this job 17 years and I was doing this before I had kids. So at that time I was thinking, how does it have this happen? And then, you have kids and you realize you don't watch your children 100% of the time. You don't have your eyes on your kids because you know you're going to hear them if they need you."

But Pewitt said there's a different type of supervision at the pool.

"I think that's that's the message is that you supervise your children in a different way. And really, by designating just one person to watch the water, that makes the biggest difference."

Several organizations like the YMCA hand out Water Watcher tags, which designates an adult to watch over children swimming at a pool or any open water. The tag is worn on the wrist or neck and can be passed off to another adult throughout the swim time to ensure that eyes are always on the children.

"Unfortunately, we are brought into this culture where we're constantly distracted. We feel like we always have to be doing more than one thing at a time. And because drowning is silent, and it's fast -- if you're not physically watching your kids, you're not going to see them when they need help," Pewitt said.


The reality of drowning is something Chezik Tsunoda is painfully familiar with.

"Yes it's sad, yes there's a lot of pain. But there's a lot of hope too,” she told NBC 5 during a recent visit to North Texas for the National Water Safety Conference hosted in Fort Worth.

In 2018, her 3-year old son, Yori, drowned in a friend’s backyard pool. She hopes sharing her story can save just one more life, even if it’s too painful to talk about.

"This is a critical issue, that it just rips away children,” she said. "It’s preventable. My child – I was there when he drowned. And it's not something you want to go telling everyone 'I could have prevented my child from dying.'"

People don't think it's going to happen to them

Julie Jackson, Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition

Ever since his death, Tsunoda has been on a mission to raise awareness around drowning prevention and water safety.

She channeled her pain into a new documentary –Drowning in Silence – which she screened to an audience in Fort Worth during the water safety conference.

“It really did turn into like a healing experience, as I connected with other parents who have lost children,” Tsunoda said. "I didn't realize how triggering it would be because you are around parents that really do understand what you've been through and you're also around changemakers that can actually make a difference.”

Changemakers like the Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition.

"People don't think it's going to happen to them,” said Julie Jackson, vice president of programs for the coalition.

She helps lead their free swim lesson program and educates parents on being water watchers.

"It's all about being aware of your surroundings and being vigilant. It's preventable,” Jackson said. "Learning a skill is empowering. And learning a skill like swimming for children -- it puts them in control of, 'I can save myself.'

For over 10 years, the coalition has formed partnerships with the Fort Worth YMCA, local fire departments and Cook Children’s Hospital to give out free life jackets, CPR lessons, swim safe classes, and other tools to prevent drownings. Their motto is "2 Seconds is 2 Long to Turn Your Back on a Child."

"When we first started the coalition we talked with first responders and that is one of the first things parents said," said Jackson. "We just turned our back for two seconds. And so we built that into our catchphrase and we build it into our program as well."

The coalition has unique challenges in Tarrant County that make their work even more crucial

“We have about 900,000 people in Fort Worth area, and we have two public pools," said Jackson.

Jackson said that's why it's important for parents need to be extra vigilant this summer, especially in apartment pools that are not lifeguarded.

"Make sure that all the toys are picked up out of the pool when you leave. Kids are just drawn to water. It's beautiful to look at, it's serene. So make it to where they're not reaching for something and they're trying to get in," she said.

If you have a home pool, make sure you have layers of barriers.

"Alarms on the doors, you make sure that doggy doors are closed and that small toddlers can't crawl through, make sure that your patio is fenced in if you have a pool with no barrier around it," said Jackson. "Just small things where people don't think it's going to happen to them. But it's obviously it's happening."


Data from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services shows there were 77 fatal child drownings in the state last year.

YMCA leaders believe there's been an uptick since the pandemic began.

"I think part of that like in 2020 and 2021 is that a lot of people were home. And when you look at drowning deaths, especially in preschoolers, most of those drowning deaths happen in backyard pools or community pools,” said Pewitt.

Texas Dept. of Family & Protective Services
Texas counties where drownings have occurred so far in 2022.

According to state data, 15 kids have drowned across Texas so far this year. Most were under the age of 5.

Adults are not immune to drowning, as several fatal incidents have been recorded on North Texas lakes like Lewisville and Joe Pool Lake in the past month. Investigating authorities have said life jackets were not present in some of those drownings.

"We have to remember as we talk about statistics, that these numbers are people, and we just need to be really cognizant and have empathy," said Jackson. "it's hard to talk about the numbers, but it's it's important that people know what's going on in their community."

Many drownings occur from backyard pools and open water. There’s concern that the number will grow this summer.

"I just hate to think that they are going to increase but I think it is. I mean people want to get out, we want to enjoy the lakes and rivers, and I think that's where we're going to see it this year,” Jackson warned.

Tsunoda says she doesn't want to see that happen as her fight to prevent another tragedy continues. She started a non-profit organization called No More Under to educate parents and prevent drownings.

"So ultimately, it is this healing journey of hope of how we can change the statistics around drowning,” she said. “Things that could have saved my son are having a water watcher and someone dedicated to the water or if he would have had a life jacket on that could have saved him," she recalls. "And then lastly, if he would have had swim lessons.”


Swim lessons can make all the difference.

"The CDC says swimming lessons reduce a child's risk of drowning by 88%,” said Pewitt.

YMCA chapters across North Texas offer resources for swim lessons to people of any age. Children, adults and even babies are eligible for swim lessons, with scholarships provided to those who need financial assistance.

For more information on swim lesson programs offered by YMCA of Metro Dallas branches, click here.

For information on swim lessons offered by the Fort Worth YMCA branches, click here.

The Fort Worth Drowning Prevention Coalition is also welcoming sign ups for its Swim Safe Assessment, which pairs children up with the right swimming lessons and provides educational programs for the parents. Assessments start May 31 and run through June 9. Click here to register.

The YMCA of Metro Dallas offers a similar assessment program that will be taking place throughout the Memorial Day weekend at several branch locations. Registrations are required but the swim assessment is free. Click here for details.

The American Red Cross also has an online search tool to help you find CPR, First Aid, Lifeguard training and various types of swimming classes offered across North Texas.


Another challenge to prevent drownings this summer is a lifeguard shortage.

Cities across North Texas have reported issues in finding enough lifeguards for municipal pools.

Even the city of Richardson announced city pools will operate on a modified schedule this summer due to the lifeguard shortage.

Currently, the YMCA of Metro Dallas said it needs 200 lifeguards going into the summer season.

Tryouts are held every Saturday at any YMCA branch location. Even if you don't pass, the YMCA will give you a free membership to improve your skills.

Click here for more information.

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