How Many Children Can’t Swim?

How Many Children Can’t Swim?

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For a lot of people, the activity of swimming was often the highlight of their summer as children. But for those who’ve never been proficient swimmers, being in any body of water can be a stressful experience.

Unfortunately, the numbers relating to how many children can’t swim in the UK can be quite surprising. Yet, most parents want their children to enjoy their summer, resulting in numerous incidents every summer.

So how common are these experiences? How many children can’t swim? And how important is it for your child to learn swimming?

In this post, we’ll answer these questions covering some key statistics, as well as different things to consider to make sure your children are safe through this summer.

How Many Children in the UK Are Unable to Swim?


The percentage of children that can’t swim in the UK is truly astounding. According to Swim England, 96% of all children aged 7-11 years old aren’t considered competent swimmers.

This means that they can’t stay afloat for more than 30 seconds, can’t swim a hundred meters, and can’t swim in clothing.

While this has always been a problem in Britain, the issue of lacking swimming skills has been exacerbated by the pandemic shutting down schools for prolonged periods, including swimming schools.

There’s a stark gap between the number of children who can’t swim from 2018 and 2021, jumping from three out of four kids to nine out of ten!

To fully understand how much of a problem this is, just take a look at the number of accidental drowning incidents that happen per year and even per week.

According to the National Water Safety Forum, 631 people died of drowning just in 2020, with a third of that being suspected as suicide. Further, a devastating 18 people died in just one week in July 2021, including multiple children under 15 years old.

child swimming

Is It OK If My Child Can’t Swim?

Not quite. For a number of reasons, your child should either be a competent swimmer or in the process of becoming one.

As you could see from the statistics above, the hazard of drowning is far bigger than a lot of people realize. Despite seeing this type of headline frequently, the number of children in the UK that can’t swim enough to save their lives in a dire situation is still on the rise.

If you’re not working towards making your child a confident swimmer, you risk finding them—and yourself—in very dangerous situations. And if it’s not for their safety and yours, you may know that swimming is compulsory in the UK.

Of course, this is trickier than it used to be with schools shutting down and smaller swimming academies going out of business due to COVID-19. However, you should still prioritize swimming as a life-saving as well as a fun activity for your children.

Keep in mind that the majority of drowning accidents happen during heatwaves; when people get too hot, they tend to go into the water regardless of their skill level. Many of these accidents also happen with people who never even intended to be in the water.

I Can’t Swim – How Can I Teach My Child?

It’s important to remember that drowning casualties are far from exclusive to children. While victims of drowning are predominantly young men, a big number of drowning victims are adults.

In some devastating cases, parents have gone into the water to save their child, only to get caught up in the waves. That’s why it’s a great idea to make sure you learn to swim, too.

If you can’t swim, we highly recommend taking swimming lessons as a family. This bonding activity is likely to motivate both you and your child to practice swimming. Various items like toddler floaties can make the early sessions easier and more fun, as well as clothing to keep them warm if your local pool is a bit chilly.

What Are the Dangers if My Child Can’t Swim?

  1. The biggest risk your child faces if they can’t is accidentally falling into the water and being unable to swim to safety or float to live.
  2. You also risk drowning yourself while attempting to get them out of the water.
  3. Children who can’t swim and are facing the risk of drowning may lean on swimmers around them for support, causing a problem for other people.
  4. Finally, 5-10% of drowning accidents where children survive cause long-term disabilities.

How Many Adults in the World Are Unable to Swim?

According to a poll conducted in 2021 in over 140 countries, where someone is from makes a substantial difference in how likely it is they can swim.

The Lloyd’s Register Foundation World Risk Poll concluded that 55% of the world population can’t swim unassisted. However, the number varies greatly when looking at the economies people are raised in.

Specifically, 72% of people from low-income economies can’t swim, while only 24% in high-income economies can’t swim unassisted.

What Is the Best Country for Swimming Ability?

While some individual countries have their own polls on the matter, there hasn’t been an inclusive project to determine the top countries in the world.

However, we do know from the World Risk Poll that some regions of the world excel over the rest of the world in terms of how much of their population can swim.

North and West Europe, Australasia, and Northern America are the top three regions in the world with 85-90% of their population being able to swim unassisted.

What Is the Worst Country for Swimming Ability?

Once again, no specific statistics for the worst country in the world in terms of swimming ability, but the worst region is Africa and Eastern Asia, averaging around 28-35%.


Not only is the activity of swimming fun and healthy, but it’s also a crucial skill of survival. Despite taking all precautions or even staying out of the water, accidents can happen, leading to unexpected encounters.

The idea of being in the water may be stressful after seeing all the headlines and numbers, but the best way to beat this fear is by investing your time and energy into learning—and teaching your family—how to swim.