As summer begins, be careful when going out for a swim

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Summer’s here and the beach is where we’ll head to as much as possible over the next few months. Sea shore, river banks or lakes – lovely cool water, and possibly water sports, make them the best place to be.

However, these idyllic thoughts about summer came to a halt when I read a line in an article that made me sit up and think, ‘One in four drowning deaths involved people born outside of Australia.’ The highest number of drowning deaths were of people born in China, New Zealand, England, South Korea and India.  

Many of those drowned were long-term residents too. According to statistics, 29 per cent of drowning deaths (not just people of Indian origin) were those who had been residing in Australia for more than ten years. Similarly, 19 per cent had been living here for at least five years, while eight per cent were international students. Irrespective of the gruesome statistics, even one death by drowning is too much! And, these deaths are considered preventable. 

Given the frequency of drowning deaths, it is imperative to be careful around water bodies. Most of us don’t know swimming and those who do, become quite overconfident. We must remember even strong swimmers need help if caught in a rip – a strong, localised, and narrow current of water which moves directly away from the shore. Therefore, it is crucial to follow certain practices before visiting beaches, including learning to identify a rip and swimming between the flags, so if you or someone else is in trouble, help will be readily available.  

One of the habits we have adopted as a family – all good swimmers, except me – is not to swim too far out after the lifeguards have packed up. We love spending time at the beach till dark but ensure we stay in the shallow area or on the sand.

In a study conducted by Royal Life Saving, Australia titled, ‘A 10 Year National Study of Overseas Born Drowning Deaths’, the main reasons attributed to drowning include poor swimming skills and being under the influence of alcohol. The author of the report, Stacey Pidgeon says, “Regardless if someone has migrated to Australia recently or lived here for 20 years, we urge people of all ages and backgrounds to learn essential swimming and lifesaving skills, to be aware of basic water safety rules, and know what to do in an emergency.”

Try and take responsibility for your safety, consider your ability, observe the warning signs and never swim alone, whether in the sea or a river. Also, steer clear of taking intoxicating substances before going for a swim like alcohol and /or drugs, for they will severely impact your judgement. 

Get your children to participate in a water safety program and even if they know how to swim, keep a close eye on them, including in pools and ponds. Always wear a life jacket while out boating.

As summer comes knocking, do consider enrolling in swimming or water safety lessons if possible. I can’t think of anything worse than calling the family of a young person to inform them of a tragedy that occurred on a fun day at the beach.

Have fun, enjoy the sun, sand and water, but at the same time, do take care and stay safe.

Here are some tips to be safe around water this summer.

For adults

·         Never swim alone – it is important to always swim with another person

·         Check for currents or rips 

·         Swim between the red and yellow flags at the beach

·         Check the conditions. Ask someone who is familiar with the area 

·         Follow the advice of lifeguards or lifesavers and ask them for help if you’re unsure

·         Look for and read the water safety signs. Ask someone who speaks English to help you understand instructions

·         Take care of slippery or uneven surfaces around or in the water

·         Avoid drugs and alcohol around water

·         Be aware of your medical conditions and their impact around water

·         If you are caught in a rip or current, float on your back and travel downstream

·         If you get into trouble in the water, stay calm. Signal for help, then float and wait for assistance. Float with a current or undertow.

·         Wear a lifejacket whenever boating, rock fishing, or using a watercraft

For children

Children should never be left alone when near a water body.

  • Actively supervise children around water
  • Restrict access
  • Teach water awareness
  • Learn how to resuscitate

Source: Water Safety, a NSW Government initiative.  

Read also: Be water safe this summer

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Vinaya Rai
Vinaya Rai is a counsellor by profession with interests in writing, radio, emcee'ing, organising and attending events.

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