ZAC Foundation and Ben Carlson Foundation Create Water Safety Coalition

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A statue of Ben Carlson, the first Newport Beach lifeguard to die in the line of duty, was unveiled at the Newport Pier. — Photo by Jim Collins ©

The ZAC Foundation, a national nonprofit based in Greenwich, Conn. that’s dedicated to improving water safety by funding education and effective programming, is partnering with the Ben Carlson Memorial & Scholarship Foundation in Newport Beach – a nonprofit promoting beach and ocean safety and assisting in higher education for lifeguards – to create the California Water Safety Coalition.

This coalition will fill a leadership gap in the state’s water safety sector and lead statewide strategy in the development, implementation, and evaluation of water safety policy and educational programs.

California drowning prevention and water safety stakeholders outlined the Coalition’s vision and mission this week during a collaborative online workshop hosted by both foundations.

While many of the government, nonprofit, family foundation, and individual stakeholders participating in the summit have collaborated in the past, as a Coalition they will be able to unite around best practices that will be effective in preventing drowning in pools, lakes, rivers and the ocean.

In California, drowning caused an annual average of 399 deaths between 2005 and 2019, 400 non-fatal hospitalizations between 2005 and 2015, and 1,041 non-fatal emergency department visits between 2006 and 2015. Drowning is the leading cause of injury related death for children under five years old in the state and ranks in the top five unintentional injury related causes of death for all other ages.

“Each drowning is a tragic event with an untold impact on family members, rescue and medical personnel and the community at-large,” said Karen Cohn, co-founder of The ZAC Foundation. “The ZAC Foundation is honored to provide key support and critical funding to help turn this alliance into a reality and start saving lives.”

Cohn noted that a national drowning prevention plan is crucial in the United States because drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages one to four after birth defects. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

Chris Carlson, co-founder of the Ben Carlson Foundation, expressed his enthusiasm for both the partnership and for the important work that is being taken on by the California Water Safety Coalition.

“The ZAC Foundation is supercharging the water safety work in California by providing financial resources and more importantly by introducing us to individuals with the experience and know-how to effectively organize efforts of this type,” said Carlson. “This is no small task when trying to align and harness the energy of so many drowning prevention experts. We are so grateful for Karen Cohn and Megan Ferraro for what they are doing to support and push this effort forward.”

A principal function of the Coalition will be to prepare participants to implement the National Water Safety Action Plan when it is announced spring 2022 after years of input from water safety advocates nationwide, including from The ZAC Foundation and other California-based water safety leaders, following a recommendation by the World Health Organization for nations to address the drowning crisis globally.

Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Jamaica, and Barbados, already have drowning prevention plans.

The Leadership Group helping to spearhead the creation of the Coalition includes Megan Ferraro, Executive Director, The ZAC Foundation; Will Koon, UNSW Beach Safety Research Group; Julie Lopiccolo, Co-Founder & President, Jasper Ray Foundation; Rob Williams, Ben Carlson Memorial & Scholarship Foundation.

Among the Coalition Workgroup Chairs are Kristin Thompson, EMS Division Chief for the City of Newport Beach.

Operating guidelines of the Coalition will be announced next year. For more information on the summit, please visit

The Ben Carlson Memorial & Scholarship Foundation was formed in honor of Ben Carlson, a collegiate water polo player, surfer, and waterman who was the first and only Newport Beach Lifeguard to die in the line of duty since the service was formed in 1923. The Foundation provides annual scholarships and actively engages in water safety programs in California and around the globe. For more information, visit

The ZAC Foundation was established in 2008 by Karen and Brian Cohn after the loss of their 6-year-old son Zachary Archer Cohn in a pool drain entrapment in their backyard swimming pool. Through education and advocacy, the Foundation has helped more than 20,000 children and their families learn about the importance of water safety and prepare for a lifetime of water safety. To learn more about The ZAC Foundation, visit

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