With summer on the doorstep, people across Australia will be pulling their swimmers out of hibernation, blowing up the beach balls and dusting off umbrellas in readiness for the national tradition of heading to the beach, river or local pool for a swim.
Summer swimming and water recreation are undoubtedly a shared national pastime. But it comes with considerable risk as well.
Royal Lifesaving Australia reports that an average of 279 people each year have died from drowning in the decade to 2017/18. While the number of drowning fatalities that year, at 249, was lower than for the previous ten years, it was still consistent with the long term average.
They further estimate that there were 551 non-fatal drowning incidents requiring hospitalisation, against a ten year average of 771. While any life saved in this scenario is to be applauded, many survivors of non-fatal drowning live with life long health issues as a result and often suffer premature death.
Drowning incidents are spread across beaches, oceans, rivers, lakes and swimming pools with men aged between 35 and 44 comprising the largest number of deaths. Drowning incidents are also heavily weighted towards communities that haven’t developed a water recreation culture, particularly new residents of Australia.
Some of the main contributing factors to drowning deaths include alcohol, poor swimming skills, lack of familiarity about water behaviour (river currents, snags, beach rips and so on), fatigue and dehydration. And while deaths are often related to inexperience, even competent swimmers can get into trouble in the water.
Fortunately in Australia, we are blessed with a mature lifesaving culture and presence that is focused on keeping swimmers safe. At EngineSwim we are proud to support the efforts of lifesaving clubs and organisations throughout Australia. With our support of fundraising and social events we are able to continue to contribute to the sustainability of this largely volunteer service provided for the safety of all swimming Australians.
In light of this, there’s always room to remind water lovers about a few basic tips to keep you safe at the beach, river or pool.
- Understand and follow all signs and flags
Always swim or surf at places patrolled by lifesavers. The red and yellow flags show there is a lifesaving service on patrol and where the safest part of the beach is for swimming.Before you go into the ocean read the safety signs.
- Learn how to spot rips andcurrents and manage them
Most rips can be identified if you know what to look for. Some of the indications include: deeper, dark-coloured water; fewer breaking waves; sandy coloured water flowing out past the waves;a rippled water surface surrounded by smooth waters; items floating our to sea.
If you do get caught in a rip, stay calm, float and raise an arm for attention. While floating, rips can sometimes flow in a circle and return you to shore. Alternatively, you might be able to escape a rip by swimming parallel to the shore until you’re out of the rip. Don’t ever struggle in a rip or you will become exhausted.
- Know the conditions
Check the weather and wind conditions before planning your trip to the beach or river. Make sure the water is calm enough for safe enjoyment.
- Be Sun Smart
Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going into the sun and reapply regularly, particularly after swimming. Use sunscreen in combination with protective clothing like a rashie or long sleeved collared shirt, a broad brimmed hat and sun glasses tominimise your risk of getting burnt. Checkthe UV levels in your local area on the Cancer Council’s SunSmart website or via the free SunSmart app – https://www.sunsmart.com.au/tools/interactive-tools/free-sunsmart-app
- Always swim with a Buddy
Never swim alone, no matter how confident you are. Always swim with a friend or family member so you can keep an eye out for each other. Simply having someone close by might be enough to prevent panic if you get into trouble.
- Heat exhaustion and hydration
Heat exhaustion and dehydrationare relatively common with beachgoers. It can cause weakness, nausea, vomiting and light-headedness. To treat it, stop any activity and move to a cooler environment to rehydrate with water and sport drinks. Call Triple Zero in an emergency.
- Alcohol and drugs
Don’t ever swim directly after a meal or under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Intoxicants and water don’t mix well.
- Learn how to swim and know your limitations
The best way to keep you safe in the water is to learn to swim competently for the conditions you will be experiencing. If you don’t feel confident, take swimming lessons. Build your swimming strength and fitness at the pool and learn how to enter and exit water bodies safely. Know what you are capable of and don’t push yourself beyond those limits.