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Due to a surge in fatal drownings during the middle of February, we’re once again urging members of the public to please take care in or near water and ask that caregivers and parents keep an eye on their children at the beach, at dams and rivers, and at home. We believe that by putting some simple measures in place, such as selecting dedicated and responsible “on-duty monitors”, who can take turns to keep an eye on children and young adults, these fatalities can be reduced considerably. Drowning is silent. It’s not what you see in the movies. There’s no waving of arms or cries for help. It’s a sobering reality that someone may drown in plain sight, sinking below the water’s surface within seconds. “When people are drowning, all of their energy is going into trying to breathe and staying above water,” says Andrew Ingram, Head of Water Safety.“ They are not yelling for help or waving their hands around. Drowning is often quick, and totally silent.” Another sobering reality is that most fatal drownings, affecting children under the age of five, occur at or near the home. Washing basins, baths and swimming pools are danger zones and small children should never be allowed close to them unsupervised. Older children should also be reminded of the dangers that they face near water, and should be discouraged from swimming at beaches, dams and rivers if there are no lifeguards on duty to help if they get into trouble. It’s simple: where there is water, there is danger. We’d like to share some measures that can be put in place, to increase awareness of how important it is to be safe around water.

Select a Swimming Monitor

I thought you were watching the children.” No-one wants to hear or say this when a water-related incident occurs. If you’re planning on spending time at the pool or on the beach with your children, select a few responsible adults to assume the role of Swimming Monitor.“ The priority is to have somebody dedicated to physically watching those who are swimming, not distracted by their phone or conversations with others. Taking your eyes off children, even for a few seconds, can be fatal,” Andrew cautions.

We’ve developed an “On Duty Swimming Monitor” tag “SWIMMING MONITOR” ID tag to avoid confusion as to who should be watching the children while they swim. Print it out, laminate it and add a lanyard. The person who is on duty should do nothing else except watch the children in or near the water. The tag should then be passed to another responsible adult after half an hour.

Know who to call

It’s also important for anyone supervising children to know who to call for help and how to do bystander CPR. The Swimming Monitor tag has emergency numbers printed on the front, and on the reverse side are infographics on how to do bystander CPR.

Be aware of the signs of drowning

Drowning can occur in seconds, Andrew warns, so “a more widespread understanding of what a person experiencing swimming distress looks like would help to save lives”. Here are the seven warning signs that someone is drowning:

  1. The person struggles to keep their face above the water in an effort to breathe – their head is low in the water, tilted back and their mouth is at water level.
  2. Their body is in a vertical or upright position. There is no supportive kicking and it appears as if they are bobbing.
  3. The person’s arms are extended to the side pressing down for support.
  4. They may continue to struggle underwater, but don’t make any headway, often facing the nearest point of safety, for example land, a person, shallow water, a buoyant support toy or a boat.
  5. Their eyes will be panicked or wide, appearing big, glassy and empty, and unable to focus.
  6. The person is incapable of responding to the question: “Are you okay?”
  7. Silence

Water-safety instruction

Sea Rescue’s Water Safety instructors have taught almost three million children how to avoid dangers in or near water, what to do in an emergency, who to call for help, how to rescue a friend, and last but not least, how to perform bystander CPR. The lessons are given at schools at no charge, and during lockdown, our instructors conduct virtual lessons. Schools and creches are welcome to contact us if they would like us to teach in their area.

For more information on our Maritime Emergency Care (MEC) First Aid course, go to our Bravo Bravo portal

To contribute to our Survival Swimming programme, please visit:

For more articles on water safety

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