Survey shows Latvian swimming skills are grim

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Authors: (Latvian Public Broadcasting)Aija Kinca (Latvian Television)Sintija Lukjanska (Latvijas Radio korespondente)

One in three Latvian residents has experienced a dangerous situation in water or drowning, according to a survey published by the Latvian Swimming Federation (LPF) and ‘Swim Safely’ association. Most Latvians don’t have sufficient swimming skills, and drowning is one of the most common external causes of death. 

On average, 129 people drown in Latvia, of which 7 are children. 

The survey data is not encouraging either. 5% of respondents think their swimming skill is very good, and this is self-assessment only. 

“Good swimming skills are key to reducing the risk of drowning. A comprehensive and regular swimming education program would help to reduce tragic statistics. However, the study reveals that children still do not have access to organized swimming lessons under the guidance of competent teachers, and the absolute majority, or 68% of those surveyed, say they ‘learned’ to swim from their parents or themselves,” said LPF President Aivars Platonovs.

Platonov added that this kind of swimming skills training creates false self-esteem. People lack awareness of how much they know, which leads to overconfidence and life-threatening situations.

The survey data also bear this out: of those who learned to swim by themselves, 37% rated their skills as good or excellent, however, only 26% could swim a distance that meets the definition of a good swimmer – 200 meters without stopping. 66% of those who have learned to swim in special lessons are able to do so.

501 adult respondents took part in the survey, and data on 674 children were provided by 502 parents.

According to the Disease Prevention and Control Center (SPKC), drowning is one of the most common external causes of death in the Latvian population under the age of 54, including children (under 17). On average, 129 people drown every year, 7 of them children.  Men drown 3.5 times more often than women.

Meanwhile, the survey shows that 30% of respondents have been in a potentially life-threatening situation in water at least once in their lifetime, which is 6% more than in the previous survey in 2018.

“When children drown, the only reason is neglect – parents should not allow their children to be alone in the water. No book, funny video on your phone, or an unknown body of water is worth a child’s life.

“In other cases, it is irresponsible, reckless behavior and overestimating one’s own abilities that are to blame. Drowning is preventable if you have awareness, knowledge, and good swimming skills,” says Zane Gemze, founder of “Swim Safely”.

According to the State Fire and Rescue Service, 52 people have been rescued from water bodies in Latvia this year. Emergency Medical Service medics have responded to drowning-related calls more than 130 times this year, including 13 victims under the age of 14.

Only 23% of children get comprehensive swimming lessons in Latvia. 

To prevent tragedies, swimming training should be provided as widely as possible in Latvia, said LPF President Platonovs:

“In Slovenia and Scandinavian countries, the number of drownings has been similar to Latvia, but that was 40, 50, and 60 years ago, and with the implementation of a targeted swimming training program, they have improved this figure tenfold. And there is, in my view, no more important task than to provide swimming education for children as widely and as extensively as possible. We believe that swimming education should be from Year 1 to Year 3, for three school years, 108 lessons, including elements of water safety or water literacy training.”

All that is needed to make this a reality is the political will, Platonovs said.