Officials say this year’s National Drowning Prevention Alliance Educational Conference made history.

For starters, it boasted the largest number of attendees since the conference began, said Adam Katchmarchi, executive director of the NDPA. More than 260 attendees turned out for the event held April 2-7 at the Marriott Waterside in Tampa, Fla.

A record number of exhibitors also showed their wares — 46 compared with 36 in 2017, for a 28% increase.

“We’ve been growing in recent years, surpassing the growth we’d expected to see,” Katchmarchi said.

It helped that the event has expanded to serve more industry segments, from the public health sector to swim school owners, Families United to Prevent Drowning members and exhibiting companies, among others.

For the second year, NDPA erected a tribute to those who lost their lives to drowning. Approximately 20 vertical banners lined the hallway to the conference, each bearing the image and story of a drowning victim.

“The hallway banners were extremely powerful,” said attendee Judith Leblein Josephs, director of community programs for the city of Summit, N.J. “The photos of children who were lost to drowning are heartbreaking and their stories pointed out how in many cases drowning can be preventable. Some days, I found it hard to walk down that hallway, but I would remind myself that this was even harder for those in attendance who have lost a child.”

Not surprisingly for an educational conference, there were many opportunities to soak up knowledge, from the six general sessions to the 26 seminars. The three keynotes proved popular, Katchmarchi said. Speakers included Dr. Peter Antevy (“Let’s Start Treating Kids Like Little Adults: A Paradigm Shift in Pediatrics”); Mario Vittone (“Unaccounted Variables — Realities of Offshore Rescue and Survival”); and Ann Marie Buerkle (“A 2018 Update on the Pool Safely Campaign”).

Honors were given at a three-hour dinner cruise aboard Yacht Starship on Tampa Bay. The NDPA Lifesaver of the Year award went to Stephanie McCormick of Backyard Lifeguards in St. Louis. The Lighthouse Award, given to a group or person who is a beacon of water safety, went to the Independent Pool & Spa Service Association.

Reflecting on this year’s conference, attendee Kimberley Hodges was struck by how it has matured. One of the original NDPA founders, she now serves as executive director of the National Injury Prevention Council in Waco, Texas. “It’s changed a lot!” Hodges said. “It’s bigger and there are a lot of vendors — when it started, we had one or two. It’s great to see the evolution.”

Josephs agreed: “I can only imagine what is next for the organization. …”