It may be called the National Sea Rescue Institute, but the NSRI also works hard to prevent inland drownings – the most common kind.
Think ‘drowning’, and most of us picture flailing hands amidst choppy waves, rip currents and, well, the ocean. Yet 95% of drownings in South Africa occur in inland rivers, dams and swimming pools. Even more disturbing, considering how preventable it is, drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in South Africa.
For this reason, even though the bulk of NSRI work focuses on sea rescue, the Institute also places special focus on inland drowning prevention.
“Each year, approximately 1500 people drown, and about 450 of those – or 30% – are under the age of 14,” says NSRI Drowning Prevention Manager Andrew Ingram. “These drownings are completely preventable with the right education and training.”
Two areas of focus for the NSRI are educating the public about risks and dangers to be aware of – such as the signs of drowning, or conditions that make swimming dangerous in dams and rivers, such as alcohol consumption, weeds and currents – as well as teaching youth to swim.
At the beginning of 2020, the NSRI launched its Survival Swimming programme, which teaches children the basic skills to stay afloat should they find themselves in difficulty in the water. The initiative came about after several stories emerged involving children drowning a metre or two from safety. They would only have needed to know how to move as little as five metres through the water to save themselves.
Swimming pools without fences (to curtail access to little ones) are also a contributor to drowning figures – something the NSRI’s Executive Director of Drowning Prevention, Dr Jill Fortuin, has taken upon herself to remedy. She has been actively lobbying to have new swimming pool bylaws passed in the Western Cape that will make it mandatory for all swimming pools to be surrounded by safety barriers to prevent drowning.
In the lead-up to the festive season, which sees a marked increase in the number of drownings countrywide, Andrew has the following message: “The best advice that I can give to parents and caregivers is to keep their children safe when they are in or near water is to watch them constantly. Do not get distracted by your cellphone, socialising or anything else. Drowning is silent and if you are not watching your children they may suddenly get out of their depth with disastrous consequences.
“Also, it is important to never drink alcohol and then swim. We have come to accept that it is not acceptable to drink and drive – the same applies to swimming. Lastly, know the general emergency number to dial from your cell phone: 112. As part of your holiday preparations, save the local emergency services numbers – especially if you are going to a place that you are not familiar with – and remember that if you are in a situation that you have not planned for and need help, use Google to get you those numbers fast!”
Keep a lookout for the NSRI’s Pink Rescue Buoys located at select inland dams and swimming spots (as well as along the coast). “If you need to help someone in difficulty in the water, call the emergency number on the Pink Rescue Buoy sign for help and remember to never go into the water, even if you are a strong swimmer, to help someone if you do not have a floatation device,” says Andrew. “This is what the Pink Rescue Buoys are for. But you can use anything to keep you afloat, such as a surfboard. Enjoy the holidays and please keep a close eye on your children when they are near or in water.”
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