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Water safety: Top tips to swim safely and avoid drowning

Many of us can’t wait to hit the beach or the swimming pool but before you do, remember these safety tips to avoid drowning.

Australia hottest temperatures

Image via Adobe Stock

Arrive Alive has released some tips for swimming safety over the festive season to avoid any drownings. 

National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) CEO Cleeve Robertson said a total of 2 000 people drown annually.

“The NSRI estimates that we have 20 000 drowning incidents, which include fatal and near-drownings each year,” said Robertson. 

Put safety first and prevent drownings

Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide. It does not only occur during times of flooding or rough seas, but also in our swimming pools and inside our homes.

Drowning can happen very quickly and babies can drown in less than 2.5cm of water, so filled bathtubs, swimming pools, and even buckets of water and sinks can be dangerous.

Who is most at risk?

Research in the US ranked drowning as the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death for children, aged one to 14. Children less than a year old are most likely to drown in bathtubs, buckets, or toilets. Children aged one to four are most likely to drown in residential swimming pools. Children need to be monitored at all times no matter the size of the pool or location where they encounter water.

Anyone can have a water-related accident and be at risk of drowning – even children who know how to swim. It is not only small children who are at risk. Males are much more likely to become victims of drowning. Risk-taking, overconfidence in swimming ability and alcohol use may play a significant role in water deaths by drowning.

Physical condition can increase drowning risk

It is important to focus on the physical well-being of anyone entering the water. Anyone using alcohol or drugs should stay away from the water.

The swimmer should be aware of how his body reacts to the temperature of the water. When the body gets cold, blood moves to the core of one’s body, weakening arms and legs, which then lose strength.

Preventing incidents of drowning at home

Supervision is the best way to help prevent children from getting injured. Even the most vigilant parent will, however, struggle to keep a child 100% safe and away from harm at all times.

Below are some tips to keep your child safe from drowning: 

  • Keep the bathroom door closed;
  • Shut the doors (and install doorknob covers) to any room a child shouldn’t enter;
  • For sliding doors, doorknob covers and childproof locks are also great for keeping little ones from leaving your home;
  • Supervise bath time. Never leave a child alone in the bathtub or in the care of another child;
  • If you must answer the telephone or door, don’t rely on an older sibling to watch the baby; wrap your baby in a towel and take him or her with you;
  • Drain water from the tub immediately after use;
  • Shut toilet lids. Install childproof locks on toilet lids;
  • Store buckets safely and empty buckets and other containers immediately after use;
  • Don’t buckets or containers outside, where they can accumulate water;
  • If you have a hot tub, keep it drained or securely covered when not in use;

Safe swimming at the pool

Most incidents of drowning occur at our residential swimming pools. Below are some tips to ensuring pool safety for children:

  • We need to supervise as actively as possible. Whenever infants or toddlers are in or around water, an adult should be within arm’s reach to provide active supervision;
  • Parents should avoid distractions when children are near water and give them their undivided attention;
  • Even strong swimmers need adult supervision. Insist on life jackets for children who can’t swim;
  • Parents should not only supervise, but also advise on safety in and around the pool;
  • Running on slippery surfaces is dangerous for everyone around.  Someone could fall into the pool, accidentally push a smaller child towards water or hit the slick pool deck causing injury;
  • Stay away from drains, filters and water intakes. Loose hair or clothing can get tangled in these structures – possibly trapping a child under the water;
  • Teach children to swim. Most children can learn to swim at about age five – but know that swimming lessons won’t necessarily prevent a child from drowning;
  • Don’t leave pool toys in the water. A child may fall into the water while trying to retrieve a toy.

Safe swimming at sea

Hundreds of thousands of holidaymakers will naturally flock to our beautiful South African beaches during summertime. Here are some beach safety tips: 

  • Before entering the sea, swimmers should take time to watch the waves and should avoid places where there is a strong backwash, obvious rip currents or a danger of being washed onto rocks;
  • Check the weather and tides before you leave home – if the seas are too rough then you could risk getting swept away;
  • Only enter where the waves are straight and gentle;
  • If you experience a strong current get out of the sea or remain well within your depth;
  • It is better to swim when the tide is rising as the sea will tend to wash you ashore and the backwash and rip currents are not too strong;
  • Check with the lifeguard on surf conditions before swimming;
  • Swim in designated areas supervised by lifeguards;
  • If lifeguards give you directions or instructions from the stand, obey them. Look out for warning signs and flags:
    • Red flag means it’s dangerous to swim.
    • Red and yellow flag means lifeguards are on patrol and you should swim in the area between flags.
  • Be considerate of other swimmers, especially when surfing;
  • Never swim while intoxicated. Alcohol impairs judgment, unnecessary risks are taken and a swimmer will tire more easily, increasing the chance of an accident;
  • Avoid swimming immediately after a big meal, as there is a danger of getting cramps;
  • Don’t dive into shallow sea – you risk breaking your neck; 
  • Don’t swim in river mouths, dirty water or when bluebottles are present;
  • Never swim alone – use the buddy system;
  • Don’t overestimate your swimming ability, especially early in the summer when the water is cold. Swimming ability is severely decreased in cold water;
  • If you are confronted by a large wave and there is not enough time to get away from it, try to dive underneath the wave. Keep your body as low as possible until the wave passes over you. Timing is important, dive into the base of the wave just before it breaks. Do not dive if the water is too shallow; 
  • If caught in rip currents, relax and swim toward the shore at a 45-degree angle until you are free of the current;
  • Do not try to swim ashore against the current – it will only tire you;
  • If the rip currents are strong, swim parallel with the shoreline in the same direction as the littoral current and then swim diagonally toward the shore;
  • If you are not able to swim out of the currents, call or wave for help;
  • Never leave a young child unattended near water and do not trust a child’s life to another child – teach children to always ask permission to go near water;
  • If a child is missing, check the water first. Seconds count in preventing death or disability;
  • Swimming aids such as water wings or noodles are fun toys for kids, but they should never be used in place of approved personal flotation devices;
  • Be alert and steer clear of plant and animal life. Jellyfish, stingrays and other marine animals can cause painful stings or allergic reactions. Brushing up against certain types of seaweed or coral can result in painful scratches and scrapes.