Is It Bad if You Can’t Swim? (Here’s What to Know)


Swimming is largely perceived as an essential life skill in places across the world. If you’re a non-swimmer, it can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that not knowing how to swim is inherently bad. Since the discussion of what’s good versus what’s bad is largely opinionated, it’s difficult to make a definitive conclusion on this subject.

Being a non-swimmer is not inherently bad, as more than 4 billion people do not know how to swim. Many non-swimmers have no interest in the water and those that do have an interest can wear a PFD. Though, the inability to swim can be bad if it diminishes your self-confidence and life experiences.

We will take a look at points on both sides of this topic so that you can make an informed decision on exactly where you stand. Read until the end to learn whether or not you should learn how to swim if given the opportunity.

Why Lacking the Ability to Swim Isn’t Bad

To start off, we will take a look at several of the reasons that support why swimming isn’t inherently bad. After discussing these reasons, we will then take an extensive look at the other side of this argument. Without further ado, let’s get down to it!

More than 4 Billion People Worldwide Can’t Swim

Many people that do not know how to swim falsely believe that swimming is a social norm. Although water-based activities may be portrayed as mainstream activities by the media, there are more non-swimmers out there than you might think.

In fact, there’s a substantial portion of the world’s population that do not know how to swim. To give you some perspective, the number of non-swimmers worldwide is estimated to be more than 4 billion (source). This isn’t the only surprising statistic pertaining to non-swimmers however. In the United States, it was found that 54% of Americans did not know how to perform the five basic swimming skills in a recent study conducted by The American Red Cross (source). So if you’re a non-swimmer yourself, know that you’re not alone.

The sheer number of non-swimmers throughout the world reveals that people can lead normal lives without any swimming knowledge. If swimming truly was an indispensable part of everyday human life, then the 4 billion non-swimmers worldwide wouldn’t be able to accomplish everyday tasks.

There are millions of people out there that rarely, if ever, venture near large bodies of water and encounter no problems living out their day-to-day life. With zero foreseeable problems, these people do not see their inability to swim as a major plight. Instead, they simply view their inability to swim as a trivial matter.

Personal Flotation Devices are Available to Everyone

Additionally, it is worth bearing in mind that both swimmers and non-swimmers alike are able to wear personal flotation devices (PFDs) to significantly reduce their likelihood of drowning. You do not necessarily have to know how to swim to use a PFD.

The main function of a PFD is to help ensure that a person stays at or above the water’s surface so that they can breathe easily. It accomplishes this by affecting a person’s natural buoyancy level. Human buoyancy depends on a number of factors linked to body composition, with the most prominent being:

  • bone density
  • body fat percentage
  • muscle mass percentage

For this reason, there are certain individuals that fall into each of the following categories:

Natural Buoyancy LevelDescription
positively buoyantrapidly rises to the water’s surface
neutrally buoyantnaturally float underwater
negatively buoyantrapidly sinks into the water’s depths

You can find additional information about what determines your personal buoyancy level and proven strategies to float more easily by clicking over to Why Can’t Some People Float? (Everything You Need to Know!).

Wherever you fall on the buoyancy spectrum, a PFD will boost your buoyancy level so that you will be able to float effortlessly and breathe normally, even when you’re surrounded by water. PFDs are extremely effective at keeping people’s breathing airways completely clear. This is the reason why they are lawfully required for any boating trip on the water, regardless of how capable of a swimmer you may be.

PFDs permit non-swimmers to enjoy water-based activities and remain relatively safe. Without a PFD, an involuntary plunge in the water could be catastrophic for a non-swimmer. With a PFD, however, such a scenario could be easily avoided so long as they’re properly supervised.

As a disclaimer, it’s important to recognize that PFDs are fallible. If you’re not careful, you can still put yourself in grave danger in the water despite wearing a PFD that’s in quality condition. As a non-swimmer, you should always be accompanied by a group of swimmers any time that you go into the water, no matter how safe the situation might seem.

Some People Have No Interest in Being Near Water

Moreover, another reason why lacking the ability to swim isn’t all that bad is that certain individuals have zero interest in being close to water in the first place.

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone shares a love for the water. While there’s a considerable amount of people that enjoy being in the water on a daily basis, there’s also a considerable amount of people that are actually repulsed by water. For those of you that swim regularly, this may be a hard pill to swallow, but it’s true.

Everyone has a right to pursue what intrigues them. At that same token, everyone also has a right to avoid what repels them. Think about it this way. There are some people that absolutely love skydiving and there are others that despise the activity. For those of you that are fearful of heights, you wouldn’t want to be pushed out of a plane thousands of feet above the air now, would you?

The same logic applies to those that do not favor the water. Since they will take great pains to avoid placing themselves near water in the foreseeable future, there’s no reason for them to learn how to swim. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s simply a matter of personal preference.

Why Lacking the Ability to Swim is Bad

On the flip side of the coin, there’s definitely a large faction of people that argue that the inability to swim is bad. Having already discussed one side of this debate, let’s take a look at the counterargument so that you can better understand exactly where your perspective lies.

Approximately 320,000 Drowning Deaths Per Year

Without a doubt, the most prominent point that labels the inability to swim as bad is the ever growing toll of drowning fatalities across the world. Every year, hundreds of thousands people lose their lives because they did not know how to get themselves safely out of the water.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the amount of people that die annually as a result of drowning is estimated to be around 320,000 (source). It’s difficult to even put that number into perspective, especially considering just how short of a time span a year really is in the grand scheme of things. To help paint a better picture of how big that fatality count is, the population of St. Louis, Missouri is made up of approximately 310,000 residents. That means an entire city of people pass away every year because of drowning.

As of 2020, drowning comes in at the third leading cause of death in the category of unintentional injuries (source). With such a high mortality rate, it’s evident that not knowing how to swim can be extremely hazardous to those with regular access to water. If more effort was devoted strictly toward teaching non-swimmers how to swim, these numbers would dwindle significantly. This is why there’s been such an aggressive push as of late to incorporate swimming into the mandatory high school curriculum.

If you’re interested in why swimming is not yet compulsory for high school students, click over to Is Swimming Mandatory in High School? (Explained).

It goes without saying, but no one should have their life abruptly cut short. In order for this fatality count to go down, the narrative regarding swimming has to change. Rather than people viewing swimming as a recreational hobby, it’s argued that people must treat swimming as an essential life skill for the greater good.

Can Negatively Impact Your Self-Confidence & Thinking

Yet another reason why not knowing how to swim can be bad is the negative influence it can have on one’s mental psyche. Not knowing how to swim can cause a person to doubt themselves and their capabilities. This can result in negative repercussions that affect all aspects of their life—like experimenting with new activities and venturing out of their personal comfort zone. Unfortunately, the mental effects associated with being a non-swimmer expands well beyond just how they fare in the water.

It only makes sense that one’s fear of the water is only exacerbated if they lack the necessary swimming knowledge to keep themselves safe. Since large bodies of water are so prevalent throughout the world, it can be extremely difficult to steer clear of water completely. In all likelihood, there will be points in a person’s life where they will be in the vicinity of a large body of water. With these circumstances, anxiety and self-doubt can occupy the mind quickly and detract from one’s ability to perform normal, everyday tasks.

The longer that you avoid a problem, the bigger that problem becomes. If you have the means to learn how to swim, you should seriously consider taking up swimming lessons, particularly if these swimming difficulties are exacting a heavy toll on your self-confidence.

It’s one thing to avoid swimming due to a health condition; it’s another to avoid swimming just because you cannot confront a slight feeling of unease. Ultimately, if swimming is holding you back from evolving and becoming a better version of yourself, it may be time to put your objections aside and take up swimming lessons.

Likely to Miss Out on Memorable Life Experiences

Furthermore, a lack of swimming knowledge can be detrimental in that it can prevent you from taking advantage of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities in the water. There’s a reason that so many families vacation to tropical and coastal destinations. Being near the water opens up a whole host of activities for the entire family!

If you’re not convinced, all you have to do is browse through the articles here at HydroPursuit. There are articles written on a variety of water-based activities, including:

  • canoeing
  • kayaking
  • stand up paddle boarding (SUP)
  • swimming
  • tubing
  • water aerobics
  • water polo
  • windsurfing

The above list of activities barely scratches the surface in terms of what you can do in the water. With such a vast selection of different activities to choose from, there are so many priceless memories to be had in any aquatic environment of your choosing—whether it be a pool, lake, river, or ocean.

Although some of these activities do not require you to know how to swim, all of these activities do require at least a minimum level of comfortability in the water. Of course, the best way to build up a sense of comfort in the water is to learn how to swim. Though, this is easier said than done.

Should You Learn How to Swim?

Having discussed the various arguments for and against why lacking the ability to swim can be bad, this entire article essentially boils down to the question of whether or not you should learn how to swim. All in all, in the event that you’ve been given the opportunity to learn how to swim, you should take it so long as you have no underlying health conditions stopping you from doing so.

Learning how to swim is no easy task, but it can yield a tremendous amount of long-term benefits. Not only will it lower your risk of drowning, it will also help to bolster your self-confidence and make precious memories with your loved ones. It’s impossible to truly quantify such benefits, but for most people the time commitment is well worth it.

At the end of the day, however, the decision lies with you and your personal circumstances. If you don’t have any intention of learning how to swim, there’s nothing forcing you to do anything you don’t want to do. To reiterate, lacking the ability to swim isn’t intrinsically bad. It only becomes bad once you allow it to get in the way of your everyday life. To truly make the best decision for you, it’s necessary to make an objective assessment of how swimming impacts your life and weigh the pros versus the cons.

If you have experienced difficulty with confronting your personal fears of swimming, refer to How to Get Over the Fear of Swimming: 9-Step Guide.

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Austin Carmody

I am the owner of HydroPursuit. I enjoy kicking back and getting out on the water as much as I can in my free time.

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