NEW YORK (FOX5NY.COM) - Swimming shouldn't come at the expense of safety. But unfortunately, a tragic accident forced Rich Specht to learn the hard way. His 22-month-old son, Rees, drowned in his backyard pond nearly six years ago. He blamed it on his ignorance of water safety.
"It's not just keeping your eyes on kids, it's also making sure you have swim lessons at an early age," Specht said. "When you have everyone together and teach them these important safety rules—it's what makes the difference."
His family was one of the hundreds participating in a free swim lesson led by Saf-T-Swim at Splish Splash water park in Calverton, Long Island. The goal was to learn important skills in order to save lives.
Drowning is the leading cause of death for children under 4, according to the CDC.
"The message is, 'Learn how to swim,'" said Bobby Hazen, the founder of End Drowning Now. "Teach your children to learn how to swim as young as possible so they can be able to save themselves, that they can turn on their back, get themselves back to the side of the pool, the side of the boat, the side of the dock, and they know how to save themselves in a rip current."
Two people died in separate drowning incidents last month in Long Beach when lifeguards weren't on duty.
Hazen emphasizes the importance of swimming under supervision. Even the strongest swimmers can be taken down by a rip current.
"A rip current is a very powerful current that's pulling you out. First off, you don't want to panic. You want to float on your back," Hazen said. "You want to rest and relax a little bit and then swim parallel to the shore—either left or right. Get out of the current and then you can swim back to shore."
Dylan Disciocia, 11, said he always swims with a buddy.
"Always remember your basics and how to swim," Disciocia said. "Never leave someone out if they're drowning."
"It's very sad that drownings can happen because it's something that so preventable with water safety," parent Jana Behonick said.
Swimming lessons and water safety education can reduce the risk of drowning by up to 88 percent, according to the National Institute of Health.