Hawaii Aquatics Foundation

Keiki Water Safety


To Educate the Children of Hawaii with the Skills, Knowledge, and Experience to Become Water Safer for LifeTM.


The Hawaii Aquatics Foundation (HAF) is a non-profit organization formed for the purpose of providing, promoting, and supporting aquatics education, safety, and training. The initial project of the foundation is to provide water safety education and learn-to-swim instruction for ALL 2nd grade elementary school children in the state of Hawaii at no cost to the schools and students. HAF is actively providing resources and expertise to support the State of Hawaii Department of Health’s Drowning and Aquatic Injury Prevention Advisory Committee – Learn-to-Swim Sub-Committee established in October 2016.


The World Health Organization defines drowning as “the process of experiencing respiratory impairment from submersion/immersion in liquid.” Per the Hawaii Department of Health, “fatal drownings” in Hawaii, are the #1 leading cause of injury related mortality for children ages 1-15, and the 5th leading cause of injury related mortality for all ages. “Non-fatal drowning” injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities, such as, memory problems, learning disabilities, and permanent loss of basic functioning (e.g., permanent vegetative state). An average of 235 non-fatal drowning victims are taken to Hawaii emergency rooms each year. 70 of these victims are children under the age of 17, with 44% being between 1 and 4 years old. The average cost for a non-fatal drowning victim transported to an ER is $7,100. 31% of these victims are hospitalized, with an average stay of just under 3 days and average cost of $19,000 per hospital admission.


Drowning IS preventable. A 20-year lag study by Federation University Australia demonstrated a correlation between drowning prevention education and training and a decrease in fatal drowning rates. There was a 50% decrease in fatal drowning rates for the generation that benefited from drowning prevention initiatives, compared to the generation prior to the advent of the initiatives.

The International Life Saving Federation (ILS) Drowning Prevention Strategies Framework (2015 Edition) identifies the following as primary drowning prevention measures to protect those at risk.

– Promote survival swimming for primary school children
– Increase access to learn to swim programs
– Increase access to training in water safety skills
– Increase awareness of need to supervise children


It is estimated that one-third of Hawaii’s youth do not know how to swim. It is further estimated that less than half of Hawaii’s youth have not been taught swimming skills in a formal setting, and even fewer have been taught situational water survival skills. Currently, less than 10% of public/charter schools statewide and less than 20% of private schools statewide provide swim instruction during their physical education classes. Of the schools that do, it is through their own initiative, as there is no Department of Education requirement or state funding provided.

There are 304 public, private, and charter elementary schools in Hawaii with approximately 17,000 students per grade level. The Keiki Water Safety Initiative is initially focused on providing water safety education and swim skill instruction for ALL students at the 2nd grade level regardless of their social, economic, or physical condition. Achieving this objective will require a collaborative effort of the state, counties, and local communities.


The “Keiki Water Safety and Learn-to-Swim Curriculum” is designed to fit within the Hawaii Department of Education’s (DOE) elementary school quarter system. Each ten-week DOE quarter is divided into two five-week sessions with two lessons per week. The ten-lesson curriculum includes two classroom-based water safety lessons and eight 25-minute in-pool swim lessons.

The classroom lessons and physical skills are organized and taught to develop the knowledge, self-dependence, and self-confidence of students with a wide range of prior skill levels and experiences. “Watermanship” skills include the spectrum of: breathing, surface recovery, floating, treading, underwater swims, front swims, back swims, side swims, directional and change of direction relative to all three body planes (i.e., sagittal-side, transverse-vertical, and longitudinal-frontal/coronal), energy conservation, and endurance.

Five progressive safety and swimming skill levels are designed for students of ages 6 through 8 (1st and 2nd grades): Level 1 – Beginner I, Level 2 – Beginner II, Level 3 – Intermediate I, Level 4 – Intermediate II, and Level 5 – Advanced. Students will be taught a range of safety, physical, and survival skills according to a rubric for each level. The assessments of water safety awareness and skill level progression will be retained for local and national longterm studies.

Staff / Cost

Learn-to-swim program instructor to student ratios for elementary school aged students are typically 1 to 4 with additional staff needed for lifeguards and deck management. Instructor, support staff, and insurance costs are estimated at $100 per student for the combined ten-lesson program. Adaptive students (mentally and physically impaired) have an estimated cost of $400 per student. Annual costs statewide for instructors, staff, and insurance is estimated at $1,500,000.


Two pilots of the program were held during the summer of 2017 with 12 students at Le Jardin Academy and 24 students at Kailua District Park. During Q1 of the 2017-18 school year, the during-school-hours program was held at Kailua District with 78 2nd grade students from Ka’ohao Elementary and Saint Anthony’s followed by an after-school program for the Kailua Boys and Girls Club. During Q2, the program will expand to include schools on the islands of Kauai and Maui for a total 280 students from 5 different public and private schools on 3 islands. Spring of 2018 will target 1,000 2nd grade students on the islands of Hawaii, Kauai, Maui, and Oahu. The goal is 100% elementary school participation statewide in 3 years.


The Hawaii Aquatics Foundation is dedicated to this cause. As obvious as the need for this type of program may seem, especially for our state, the State of Hawaii Department of Health’s Drowning and Aquatic Injury Prevention Advisory Committee’s decision to address drowning prevention through the establishment of a Learn-To-Swim Sub-Committee is an encouraging milestone that cannot be overstated. It has provided the credibility and attention needed to bring together, from all islands, various state and county officials, EMS personnel, and community advisors. To seize this opportunity, HAF is asking for your support to “Educate the Children of Hawaii with the Skills, Knowledge, and Experience to Become Water Safer for LifeTM.”