Swimming made safer with this headband

Sheila Dharmarajan
The Future Is Now

The Wilton YMCA summer camp in Wilton, Conn., offers kids a classic summertime experience. Hundreds of children make use of the camps’ amenities, including its natural pond swimming hole.

One unique aspect of the campers’ swimming experience? Everyone is required to wear a headband, containing technology that alerts lifeguards when a child’s head is underwater too long. At first glance, the headbands may look a little odd or space agey, but they are helping make the Wilton YMCA swim area one of the safest in the country.

It’s all about having fun … and being safe

To keep its swimmers safe, the Wilton YMCA employs a legion of lifeguards, its main line of defense. But believing you can never be too careful, it has also installed a $30,000 Wahooo Swim Monitoring System, the first one in use anywhere in the United States.

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“The vigilance to keep inexperienced swimmers safe is a never-ending issue,” says Camp Director Aaron Britton, “The waterfront that we supervise keeps me up at night. We have our outdoor pond, outdoor pool, splash pool and our indoor pool. We cycle through almost 500 hundred kids a week through all of those areas.”

The bike helmet for swimming

Swimmers wear a headband around their head, which Wahooo co-founder Dave Cutler refers to as the “bike helmet for swimming.” The “Swimbands“ have two sensors on each side, with a microprocessor computer in the middle. When both sides of the head are submerged, the microprocessor times it. If the Swimband is submerged for a dangerous period of time, it transmits a signal to listening devices that are around the entire swimming environment. When the Swimband is submerged for 20 seconds, the alert towers will flash yellow. After 30 seconds, the system will flash red.

“It’s really that simple,” says Cutler,“ if a swimmer stays under too long, your Swimband sends a signal, and the swim monitoring units flash to let the lifeguards know.”

The Wahooo Swim Monitoring System can work in a clear swimming pool or a natural pond, where visibility is a huge concern.

“One of the biggest challenges we have in camp is in the dark water. It’s difficult to see to the bottom, so this is just another aid for the lifeguards who may not notice somebody at the bottom of the water,” says Britton.

The inspiration

In 2006, tragedy struck a Connecticut swimming hole. A 9-year old boy nearly drowned and was permanently injured. Cutler and his partners believe their swim monitoring technology can prevent tragedies like this in the future.

[Related: Summer Fun at the Beach Can Turn Tragic in Blink of an Eye]

“A little boy that was a classmate of my daughter’s drowned in a town lake despite the fact there were lifeguards and camp counselors watching the water. It was just so needless and preventable. We started thinking there’s got to be a way to use technology to prevent something like this from happening to another family,” says Cutler.

A pool … without lifeguards?

Not quite yet. The Wahooo Swim Monitoring system is meant to be used as a fail-safe, not a replacement for human lifeguards. “I really think the human element has to be a part of this because lifeguards are trained to foresee emergency. Technology tells you when one is happening. If they do miss it … this technology aids in taking care of the emergency,” says Britton.

With recent government statistics pointing to about 10 unintentional drownings every day in United States, swim monitoring technology may be the future of keeping swimmers as safe as possible.