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We take a look at how water-safety educator Val Barlow is progressing in the Wild Coast area and what the Survival Swimming team got up to during the winter months.

The Eastern Cape, particularly the Wild Coast, is a concern for NSRI’s Drowning Prevention department. Its long, rugged coastline and inland waterways, which many communities rely on for subsistence fishing, water collection and other daily activities, are quite difficult to access. Beaches are seldom manned by lifeguards, and getting emergency medical care to casualties can be a challenge due to poor roads and other infrastructure issues. The result is the province suffers an over-representation in the number of drownings in South Africa.

But there’s one lady who is making a big difference! Valerie Barlow, NSRI’s Regional Water Safety team leader for the Eastern Cape, lives in Port St Johns and has worked for the NSRI for four years. She’s passionate about teaching water safety to children – especially in these rural areas where people don’t have access to swimming lessons and children lack adult supervision.

Val is acutely aware of the challenges facing the community as well as her job as a water-safety instructor, but her focus is singular. She often spends a large part of her day driving to remote villages to teach the school children – and adults in the community – about water safety, hands on CPR, who to call in an emergency and, of course, shares information about the Pink Rescue Buoy project.

Val talks to the children and staff in schools, local leaders and other stakeholders in the area and, during her water-safety lessons, places great emphasis on looking after the Pink Rescue Buoys so that the buoys can look after them and their loved one’s should there be an emergency. The area now has around 30 Pink Rescue Buoys donated by funding from private individuals, the National Department of Tourism and The Federated Employers Mutual Assurance Company (FEM).

Many children have told Val how proud they feel looking after the buoys and have told their families at home to look after the buoys too. Spending so much time teaching people about the project and how the Pink Buoys can be used to save a life has resulted in only one Pink Buoy being stolen in the seven months that they have been there – a record for the Pink Rescue Buoy project!

We’re really proud of Val and what she has achieved, and continues to achieve, on the Wild Coast!

Rescue Buoy 1
The Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) workers receive water-safety instruction from Val Barlow on the Wild Coast
Rescue Buoy 2
Children arrive at the beach at Shark Point without supervision and receive a Pink Rescue Buoy lesson on the spot.

Survival Swimming

During the winter months, Sea Rescue’s Survival Swimming team ran classes at the indoor swimming pool in Retreat in Cape Town. The City of Cape Town has put its weight behind the project and is allowing our instructors to use the municipal swimming pools at no charge so that we can teach local underprivileged children basic survival swimming skills for free. The Steenberg Community Forum has joined in and is helping to facilitate lessons in their community. As this project develops, we will train more volunteer instructors – which means our Survival Swimming programme will be for the people by the people! Lessons at the Retreat pool take place from Mondays to Fridays from 2pm to 5pm.


Survival Swimming Instructor Kim Abrahams teaching Survival Swimming at the Retreat Municipal Pool in Cape Town
Kim with members of the Retreat Community Forum who are supporting NSRI’s Survival swimming Programme in their area

Each Water Safety lesson costs just R10 per child. Each Pink Rescue Buoy costs only R1 500. To donate towards these water-safety initiatives, go to

If you have any questions regarding Survival Swimming please email, call 021 403 4011 or WhatsApp 072 546 9579 and we will be able to help you.

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