Curriculum and Instruction | Educational Assessment, Evaluation, and Research | Exercise Physiology | Exercise Science | Health and Physical Education | Kinesiology | Leisure Studies | Outdoor Education | Public Health | Sports Sciences | Sports Studies


Traditionally, public understanding of drowning survival has focused on swimming capacity, often measured by how far a person can swim. With respect to the high incidence of adult drowning in high-income countries, using the more inclusive concept of water competency may yield a more comprehensive explanatory framework for understanding the reasons behind these drownings. Any competency base required to survive a drowning situation is dynamic, complex, and multi-faceted. Furthermore, perceptions of risk and capacity to cope with that risk are likely to be pivotal to the avoidance of drowning. Adults’ perceived water competence was measured against their actual water competence in a pool environment. Adults were tested on their competence in entering and exiting water, floating, and swimming. Despite most adults (98%) being unable to swim more than 100 m in open water, more than half (59%) perceived themselves as good swimmers, and more than quarter (27%) thought they could swim more than 200 m at the post-survey. In conclusion, reality gaps were found in water competence among adult groups. Differences between perceived and actual competence suggest that many adults may underestimate the risk of drowning and overestimate their competency. This provides a plausible explanation as to why many adults drown.