DEM Soliciting Vendors to Run Swim Lessons and Paddle Craft Safety Classes at Three State Facilities this Summer

Published on Thursday, February 01, 2024

PROVIDENCE, RI – Responding to the scourge of accidental drownings that occurs every year in the Ocean State including some at state facilities, the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is soliciting vendors to run swimming lessons and paddle craft safety classes starting in early June after state beaches open for the 2024 season.

In a request for proposals (RFP) that’s being posted by the Rhode Island Division of Purchases (enter RFP24003802 into the search function), DEM said it is seeking bids from qualified contractors to run swim lessons for kids ages 5 to 12 three days a week at Lincoln Woods State Park and twice a week at Goddard Memorial State Park in Warwick and Roger Wheeler State Beach in Narragansett. DEM chose Lincoln Woods and Goddard because they are the state’s two open water swimming facilities that are closest to urban centers. Economic status, geography, and race determine children’s safety in the water, according to the YMCA, and “children who live in economically challenged areas or homes simply don’t have the opportunity to take swim lessons,” says Steve Tarver, President and CEO of The YMCA of Greater Louisville, KY.

Paddle craft safety classes will be held once a week at both Lincoln Woods and Goddard State Park, according to the RFP. Assuming DEM finds qualified vendors, both programs will run for about eight weeks. DEM’s preference is to find vendors with staff who are bilingual.

Governor McKee proposed $85,000 in funding for DEM to develop these programs in the fiscal year 2024 budget, which the Rhode Island General Assembly enacted in June 2023. Swim classes, lasting from 30 to 45 minutes, will be offered by age and ability. Beginning swimmers will learn how to become more comfortable in the water along with basic stroke movements. More experienced swimmers will learn stroke technique, endurance, and safety skills. With classes varying from one to three hours long, the small watercraft safety program will cover skills relevant to operating kayaks and paddleboards in open water including launching, maintaining balance, basic paddle strokes, and critically, proper use of personal flotation devices (PFDs).

“Rhode Island has amazing beaches and freshwater resources that draw people to the water,” said DEM Director Terry Gray. “DEM wants to support people who want to cool off, explore, and enjoy the water by guiding them to have fun and be safe. This includes working to decrease the risk of drowning by offering this safety training. Our focused goal with these water safety programs is to save lives. We want swimming and small watercraft use to be accessible to more Rhode Islanders, and that starts with safety training.”

Although American drowning death rates declined by 32% in the United States between 1990 and 2017 (source), drowning, nonetheless, is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury-related death, after motor vehicle crashes, among children ages 1 to 15, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Children ages 5 to 17 are more likely to drown in natural water such as a pond, a lake, or the ocean than in a swimming pool, according to the American Red Cross. Perhaps most alarmingly, children, and especially teenage boys, overestimate their ability to swim. A 2010 study conducted by the University of Memphis and USA Swimming Foundation found that despite self-reporting low swimming ability or no swimming ability at all, 57% of the youths ages 4 to 18 surveyed swam more than five times a month in the summer.

A total of 70 Rhode Islanders drowned between 2019 and 2023 with nine drowning in 2023, according to Rhode Island Department of Health statistics. The last drowning at a state property occurred in July 2023 when a Cranston man tried to save two young people who were in distress in the surf at Scarborough North State Beach in Narragansett. The incident occurred at 7 PM with no lifeguards on duty. Before that, another Cranston man, who was not wearing a PFD, died while kayaking at Lincoln Woods in July 2022. And before that, a 15-year-old boy drowned while swimming at Lincoln Woods in June 2022. This incident also happened after hours with no lifeguards on duty. Nearly half of paddlers who drown while kayaking – 48% – are not wearing a life jacket, according to United States Coast Guard statistics.

Wearing a life jacket while paddling in Rhode Island is no longer optional; it is required, according to new boating safety regulations announced last year by DEM.

“Our regulatory changes are a direct result of the totally preventable paddle craft tragedies that Rhode Island has experienced in the past five years,” said Captain Michael Schipritt, Division of Law Enforcement (DLE) Boating Safety Coordinator. “There is no time to put a life jacket on before a paddling accident. It’s like trying to buckle your seatbelt before a car crash.”

Separate but related, DLE will be offering a boating safety class for youths 13 to 17 in May. DEM will provide details as they become available.

A pre-bid conference will be held tomorrow, Friday, Feb. 2, at 1:30 PM at Lincoln Woods State Park. Interested parties also may visit the Division of Purchases website, entering RFP24003802 into the search function, for more details.

For more information on DEM programs and initiatives, visit Follow DEM on Facebook, Twitter (@RhodeIslandDEM), or Instagram (@rhodeisland.dem) for timely updates.

Two boys smiling and looking at camera while swimming in a pond. Credit: Photo by Min An,
Credit: Photo by Min An,