As a trained coxswain and integral member of the NSRI Station 8 (Hout Bay) crew, Chris Wescott is used to dangerous situations and being ready for action – but receiving a request to give a talk on water safety at his four-year-old son’s school was a different kettle of fish.
“My son Cameron must have told his teacher that I volunteer for the NSRI, as she asked me to come into the school one morning and tell the class about what we do. I was caught a bit off guard and felt a mild sense of panic, as I had no idea how I was going to keep the attention of a class of pre-grade-Rs for more than 30 seconds!”
Keep it he did, though: “I didn’t realise how much fun I would end up having,” he says. He also didn’t take into account how hot wearing a full wetsuit would make him. “I decided to dress in my full Sea Rescue PPE to try and keep the kids’ attention. I knew this was a good call when I saw their reaction to a man suddenly appearing in a red wetsuit and yellow helmet in the middle of their classroom. Turning on the lifejacket’s flashing light and blowing the whistle was an absolute crowd-pleaser. However, by the end of the presentation, I had sweat pouring down my face!”
Water safety classes are critical to help reduce unnecessary drownings in South Africa. The NSRI has an extensive drowning prevention programme with water safety education being one of the tiers. This programme is coordinated by NSRI Head Office and has 21 full-time instructors. And although Chris isn’t technically a water safety instructor, the NSRI’s Water Safety Education Instructor’s Manual has tailor-made content for different age groups, which took all the hard work out of Chris’s preparation.
“Teaching children to swim takes time and not all families have access to safe water facilities,” says Chris. “Even competent swimmers can get themselves into trouble if they are not able to identify dangerous water conditions. While water safety classes are not swimming classes, they can quickly and cost-effectively teach people how to avoid dangerous situations in and around bodies of water.”
The content aimed at 5- to 9-year-olds employs the acronym PLAN:
P – Prepare/Pack
L – Look (lookout for dangers such as rip currents or slippery rocks)
A – Ask an adult (for permission to swim and to watch them while swimming)
N – Never (lists what children should never do in or near the water)
It also teaches children to tell adults that they must call the number 112 in case of emergencies.
The NSRI’s Water Safety Education programme started in 2006, and has taught over 3 million people to date. Its focus is on teaching people throughout South Africa to be safe in and around water, especially those who are most vulnerable, being children under 14 years.
NSRI Water Safety instructors visit schools and clubs around the country and teach people about water-safety issues using colourful teaching materials and a mannequin to demonstrate bystander CPR. The lessons are designed to fit into a normal school schedule, are presented in a fun and interactive way, are age-appropriate and are delivered in the mother tongue of the learners.
In 2017, the NSRI’s Water Safety Education programme received international recognition as the proud runner-up for an Outstanding Team Contribution in the International Maritime Rescue Federation awards.
Although Chris isn’t a full-time instructor, he passed on the water safety message to a class of young minds with the NSRI’s blessing – and we bet his son was as proud as can be!
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