Prepared by the Washington State Drowning Prevention Project
Tizzy Bennett, Kathy Williams, Tony Gomez, Mady Murrey,
Roxanne Basford and Tim Bernthal
April 1998

General guidelines for improving programs

  • Work from the data you have from your area
  • Use multilevel interventions (individual, group, peer, school, community etc.)
  • Take a comprehensive view of risks and outcomes
  • Emphasize protective and positive factors
  • Systematic skills training
  • Adult and peer modeling and reinforcement
  • Focus on social norms promoting prevention
  • Work from a solid theoretical and empirical base
  • Keep parents and teens involved
  • Do not rely on information-only programs
  • Use a long-term perspective
  • Don't limit program implementation to the school environment
  • Collaborate with community partners and through your coalitions

Include youth in everything you do

  • Give them control
  • Give them decision making power

Understand Risk Factors

  • Address Perceived vs. Actual
  • Overestimating swimming skills
  • Underestimating water conditions
  • Non use of life jackets
  • Playing wolf
  • Lack of skills or impetus to evaluate a potentially dangerous situation

Work with swim programs

  • Include open water risks and safety issues in swim programs
  • Create learn-to-swim programs specific to pre teens and teens
  • Provide life jackets that fit teens at public pools for loan and for use as part of swim classes

Emphasize use of life jackets

  • Include life jackets for teens as part of marine patrol and other loan programs
  • Promote the use of stylish life jackets in local advertising, media photos, summer fashion shows etc.
  • Encourage life vest use for non-swimmers or poor swimmers
  • Encourage life vest use when swimming across a river or lake
  • Encourage life vest use in small boats
  • Sell life vests at loan sites

Work with the media

  • Ask that the media mention whether a life jacket was worn or not for all drownings and near drownings
  • Increase overall awareness that teen drownings are an issue by working with the media throughout the spring and summer
  • Use any drowning as an opportunity for prevention messages in the news or to visit the school of the victim

Address signage and access

  • Identify and place signage at high risk water sites where drownings have occurred
  • Identify and promote safe and unsafe water sites
  • Support life guarded beaches and promote use of these sites for swimming and water recreation

Emphasize role of alcohol and drug use

  • Increase awareness of risks and outcomes of alcohol and other drug use while swimming or boating.

Highlight adult and teen role models

  • Focus on adults in your efforts. If teens see that adults and their peers never wear life vests, then they won't either. Same issue with drinking around the water.


  • Seattle King County Drowning Prevention Coalition, West Region Drowning Prevention Coalition and the Yakima Valley Drowning Prevention Coalition
  • Smith, GS and Brenner, RA The Changing Risks of Drowning for Adolescents in the US and Effective Control Strategies, Adolescent Medicine, Vol 6 (2), June 1995
  • Durlak, JA Successful Prevention Programs for Children and Adolescents, Plenum Press, 1997
  • US Department of Health and Human Services, Developing Effective Health Communication Strategies for High Risk Youth Outside of School
  • Washington State Drowning Prevention Network
    Focus Group Findings
    News Clipping Analysis
    Death Certificate Review
    EMSC Adolescent Drowning Risk and Prevention Grant Application