learner swimming

A learner from Tshwane in Gauteng has died during a school trip. Image: Canva

From pool to sea: Critical measures to keep children safe this summer

The importance of child water safety have sadly been thrust into the spotlight after the drowning of Springbok Jannie du Plessis’s son this week. Here are some live-saving steps you can take to prevent tragedy.

learner swimming

A learner from Tshwane in Gauteng has died during a school trip. Image: Canva

The tragic drowning of Jannie du Plessis’s one-year-old son has highlighted yet once again the critical importance of water safety measures.

Jannie du Plessis: One-year-old son’s tragic drowning

Ever since the untimely death of his son, tributes have been pouring in for the former Springbok prop’s family. The South African reported that Du Plessis’s son drowned in their swimming pool on 16 November – which also happened to be Du Plessis’ 39th birthday.

Drowning fifth leading cause of accidental death in SA

According to Africa Check, the United Nations observed its first World Drowning Prevention Day on 25 July 2021. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 236 000 people drown across the globe every year. 

In 2018, drowning was ranked as the fifth leading cause of accidental death in South Africa, with 1 444 deaths that year.

Meanwhile, a 2018 study found that in Gauteng, 50% of drownings were in home settings, such as swimming pools or bathtubs. 

Water safety measures

Therefore, in order to prevent such tragic incidents from taking place, here are some safety measures to take in order to prevent a child (or adult) from drowning:

Stay within arm’s reach

According to parents.com, kids who are not yet experienced swimmers need constant touch supervision when they’re playing in or near a pool or at the beach.

That means you (or another responsible adult) should stay in the water with your child at all times, within touching distance, giving him 100% of your attention.

Do not solely rely on water wings

A pediatric emergency physician at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia told the publication referenced above that parents put too much faith in flotation devices that were never made to be life preservers.

If your little one is a non-swimmer, it’s okay to let him/her use floatie toys, but only if you’re right there next to him/her in the water.

Install the proper water barriers

Families should install a four-sided fence that separates a pool from the house and the rest of the yard with a self-closing, self-latching gate.

Sign up your child for swimming lessons

It is advised that all children and parents learn to swim. Basic water competency swim skills include the ability to enter the water, surface, turn around, propel oneself for at least 22 meters and then exit the water.

But, what age is best to start swim lessons? Formal swim programmes are not recommended for children under the age of one year old.

“At this age, parent/infant swim classes are a form of bonding as opposed to a safety lesson,” parent.com states. “The decision to enroll a child over age one in swimming lessons should rather be made by the parent based on the child’s developmental readiness and exposure to water.”

A water safety expert says that a child needs to be ready both physically and mentally for swimming lessons. Children need to have a certain amount of strength and coordination to be able to get in and out of a pool, take direction from the instructor, wait their turn, and cooperate with other children.

Therefore, look for a programme that has certified instructors and groups kids according to their abilities.

Learn CPR

If the worst happens and you have to rescue a distressed swimmer, conducting CPR while you wait for an ambulance to arrive could save that person’s life. In South Africa, CPR courses near you are only a Google search away.