Content Warning: This article discusses the topic of drowning
Why is Water Safety Important?
It is a devastating reality that each year there are avoidable drownings that take the lives of Australians. Between 2018 and 2019 there were 625 hospitalisations and 255 deaths caused by drowning. Children under 4 were most likely to be hospitalised. These concerning statistics illustrate why water safety is so important and should be taught at a young age.
Drowning can occur in just 2 minutes and in as little as 6 centimeters of water! The risk of drowning is constant and doesn’t discriminate between bodies of water. Here are some things to look out for to help keep yourself and your family safe when interacting with water.
Rivers, Lakes and Creeks
Many children swim in rivers, lakes and creeks. Although this water is generally calm and inviting it is so important to take extra precautions to prevent drowning and injury. The depth of these bodies of water isn’t always visible and sometimes can be deceiving. Children should always swim with an adult who can gauge the area first.
Most creatures in and around rivers, lakes and creeks are harmless but they should always be considered especially if the water isn’t clear. It is best to wear water shoes to protect feet because jagged rocks, broken glass and other rubbish are also a huge threat and can cause serious injury or even act as a trap that can drag people underwater or get their feet stuck. This can be a huge possibility if the water has a lot of weeds or grass which can drown even the most competent, strong swimmer.
Adult supervision is so important because children will often panic and try to break free by shaking or pulling their arms and legs rapidly, which could lead them to become trapped even more. Training your children to shake and pull their arms and legs slowly instead of frantically when trying to untie themselves is a good preventative method to teach them prior to going swimming. You can also come up with a specific phrase that they can yell to let you know that they need immediate help.
“If you are going out on a boat, always wear a life jacket” says watersport retailer WSC Australia, “Even if your child is a good swimmer, something could cause the boat to tip over and they could be trapped underneath”.
It’s difficult to say no to a day at the beach on a hot day, but there are some safety guidelines you should know before going into the water. Because of waves and currents, swimming in the ocean is more difficult than it is in the pool. Check with the lifeguard to determine how strong the waves are when you first arrive onshore. Some areas fly flags or chalkboards with messages for swimmers to give them an indication of what they’re getting into.
“Swells may either carry you to the ocean floor or knock you down so it is best that a child is always with an adult” says aquatic leisure specialists Aus Leisure.
When the waves become rough it is best to get out of the water because even the strongest swimming adults can be dragged out or under and drown. There are a lot of incidents of adults trying to save children from rough waters and tragically drowning.
Swimmers are sometimes swept away by powerful undertows or ocean currents in certain locations. Rip currents (also known as riptides) are so strong that they may carry swimmers out to sea before they realise anything is amiss.
People will often get into trouble when they panic or become exhausted while swimming. It’s critical to understand your limits so that if you begin to feel weary, you can go back to shore and rest. Never go into deep water at the beach and always stay between the flags, in view of life guards and away from rocks.
It is best to teach children that if they are caught in a current, swim parallel to the beach instead of toward it for as long as the water keeps pulling them, then direct them to swim diagonally back to shore. If they can’t return to the beach, tell them to stay afloat and raise their hand for help from a lifeguard. It’s critical not to panic in this scenario or try and swim against the current as this will exhaust you.
Some great tips to remember when swimming:
- Don’t swim alone
- Swim in view of a lifeguard and between the flags
- Don’t swim out far
- Don’t swim close to rocks or rips
- Stand facing the waves so you don’t get knocked over by a sudden one
- Wear appropriate floatation devices if required
- Never swim at night
- Never swim when dehydrated
Water parks are a fantastic way to spend quality time with your child. Wave pools, huge slides, and squirting fountains are entertaining for the whole family. Find out what each attraction is like and how deep the water is before you go to stay safe. Some wave pools can be rough, so have an adult around to keep an eye on things.
Holiday accommodation company Happy Days Moreton Island suggests that to keep your child safe at a water park they should:
- Wear a lifejacket if they’re not a strong swimmer, a younger child or under 48 inches
- Only go on attractions that they are old enough and tall enough to ride
- Always listen to the lifeguard’s directions
- Constantly be watched by their supervising adult, lifeguards need to supervise hundreds of children and could miss something
- Always ride rides properly, generally face and feet first
- Always look out for other people on rides and in the water
- Never run near the pool as they could slip and hit their head
- Always have an adult check the depth of the water before they enter
The best tip for keeping children swim safe, regardless of where they’re swimming, is taking them to swim lessons. Even babies can learn life-preserving skills that can protect them around the water. These lessons are best to be completed by a professional who can give you advice and ensure no danger occurs during the lessons.
Around your home drowning is also a huge risk. A lot of children drown at home so it is essential to always ensure that pools are locked and gated, bathtubs and buckets are empty and toilets are child-locked (for younger children).