Baptism should be a special time for faith communities, however, ceremonies conducted in the open sea can soon turn to tragedy.
For members of the Christian faith, baptism, marked by ritual submission in water, is a significant religious rite. But our seashores, which are common locations for ceremonies, can be dangerous and difficult to predict.
Earlier this year, three people drowned during a baptism ceremony held at Monwabisi Beach in the Western Cape and this month, two more people lost their lives on the KZN south coast. In both cases the ceremony took place in the early morning before lifeguards come on duty.
Strong rip currents are often to blame. These are notoriously difficult for the untrained to detect and tend to lure people in because they create a false calm in the surf.
When present, these powerful ‘rivers of water’ are a danger to all beach goers because they can easily pull objects, and people, out beyond the breakers.
Sea Rescue encourages safe practices during baptism ceremonies. Our goal is to assist communities to ensure that these special events remain incident free.
Here are 5 tips to create a safer environment for baptism:
- Contact your local municipality and ask for a lifeguard presence during the ceremony. When possible, the local Sea Rescue and lifeguard volunteers will help;
- Spend time learning how to spot a rip current and avoid going into the water at that spot. If you do get stuck in a rip current, try not to panic, and do not swim against the flow of the water as you will become exhausted. Rather do your best to tread water, wave your hands for help, and swim out to the side if possible. If you spot someone else caught in a rip current, encourage them to do the same;
- Always assign a look-out person whose only job is to watch for signs of danger and to alert others as soon as a problem is detected. This person should keep a watchful eye over the condition of the sea, as swells and waves can come up quickly;
- Keep spectators on the shore, out of the water. This significantly reduces the risk of incidental casualties;
- Sea Rescue will provide training on rip currents and general water safety to churches and schools. To make arrangements please call 021 434 4011.
- Save the Sea Rescue emergency number on your phone: 112. Call as soon as a problem is suspected – do not wait to see if it becomes serious. If you can’t remember the number simply type Sea Rescue into Google and it will give you the closest Sea Rescue emergency number. The sooner you call for rescuers, the better the chances of survival.