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No more Under

Chezik Tsunoda, a Mercer Island mother of four, wants to save others from her family's tragic loss. Photo by Joshua Huston

Saving lives through No More Under

Mercer Island mom seeks to save lives through water safety education

In 2018, Chezik Tsunoda’s 3-year-old son, Yori, drowned in a swimming pool surrounded by friends and family.  

Several adults were nearby. It was what any parent would consider safe. But drowning—the leading cause of death for children under age 4—is swift and silent. 

“I remember saying, ‘Where’s Yori?'” Tsunoda said. “I had this strange feeling.”

In the years after Yori’s death, Tsunoda realized water safety education wasn’t sufficiently prioritized for American communities. Kids were still dying and suffering debilitating brain injuries in preventable water accidents. She started the organization No More Under with a single goal: to save lives. 

Tsunoda, a mother of four and resident of Mercer Island, is magnetic and engaging even when talking about the worst topic in the world: losing a child.

Here’s what she wants you to know. 

So Many Ways to Drown

In 2020, after years of steady decline, the number of children who drowned in the United States started to climb. Between 2018 and 2022, 135 people in King County lost their lives to drowning. Seattle Children’s estimates that 17 children drown in Washington state every year. 

“These deaths are completely preventable,” said Tsunoda. 

According to Tsunoda, water safety is a massive issue requiring efforts across all aspects of public policy. She puts it bluntly: “There are so many ways to drown.”

Global experts agree. In 2022, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) issued a special interest call for research on drowning prevention.  

For children ages 4 and younger, an inch of water can be dangerous. More than 85% of small children drown in pools or hot tubs at home or at a friend’s. Toilets, bathtubs, decorative ponds, and even puddles pose a risk. 

For kids aged 5 to 17, the risk shifts. While parents should remain vigilant at pools, open water—the kind most of us swim in here in the Puget Sound region—poses the more significant threat. “We often learn how to swim in a pool, and children don’t understand the difference being in that open space,” said Tsunoda. “It’s not a controlled environment.”

According to the Red Cross, oceans, rivers, lakes, and ponds account for half of all drownings for children and teens; risks vary by demographics. Boys, children with ASD, and children of color are more likely to drown than their peers. 

“There are huge cultural differences around water,” explained Tsunoda. “Fewer black and brown families know how to swim, so they just avoid the water.

“But this is Seattle,” she said, gesturing emphatically. “We are surrounded by water.” 

Water Safety Advocacy

Tsunoda is ardent about changing the conversation around water safety. 

“When we visit our pediatricians,” she said, “we hear about sugar, electrical outlets, everything—but the number one reason your kids won’t make it to kindergarten is drowning.

“My heart is dedicated to getting water safety taught in schools, so there’s not all that pressure on the parents,” she said.

Physical education teachers can talk with kids about water safety and advocate for swim lessons, which can support children whose parents aren’t swimmers. No More Under also connects families to affordable lessons. In 2022, 196 kids took swim lessons through No More Under partners.   

Last year, No More Under worked to pass Yori’s Law (HB 1750), a bill that promotes equitable water safety and drowning prevention education. 

Be a Water Watcher!

Parents can download No More Under’s free Water Watcher App, which offers timed intervals as a designated “water watcher,” an adult committed to 100% watching children in the water—no texting, drinking, or socializing. 

“In the amount of time it takes to read and answer a text message, a kid can drown,” said Tsunoda. 

Take it from a lifeguard.

Riley Simpson, the Sammamish YMCA’s aquatics director, explains, “Drowning is a process. I’ve seen kids in trouble ten feet away from their parents.” 

“When children are distressed in the water, survival instincts kick in,” Simpson said. “They may look like they are climbing a ladder, bobbing up and down for air, or clinging to an item.” 

Simpson added, “Their mouth and nose are dipping into the water, and they are expending all their energy trying to breathe, so most kids can’t shout or splash.”

Read more:

What Every Parent Needs to Know to Prevent Your Child from Drowning

About the Author

Elizabeth Hunter