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Abstract

Three decades ago, Schuman and colleagues (1977) used the visual metaphor of an iceberg whose underwater base contained a substantial layer of self-reported incidents that posed a serious threat to life so as to illustrate the true extent of the risk of drowning. This present study uses the iceberg metaphor to explore the magnitude of that risk among youth. In addition to describing the fatal and non-fatal drowning incidents at the visual tip of the iceberg, the study presents data from surf rescue records and survey data on exposure to risk and incidence of a life-threatening submersion experience. Most youth had participated in some swimming (98%) or other aquatic activity (94%), and more than one third (37%) reported having had a life-threatening submersion experience. Significantly more females had experienced such an incident (females 41%, males 34%). For one third of youth (30%), the experience had made them more cautious around water, but most (66%) reported no aversive effect. The author discusses the value of the iceberg phenomenon as a visual metaphor of the risk of drowning and its implications on the education of young people.

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