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Water safety isn't just swimming between the flags

Blog post | 18 Feb 2020

Australia is an aquatic playground, and being safety conscious in and around water is an essential part of life. However Royal Life Saving Australia has reported that in 2019, the number of drownings in Australian waterways rose by 10%. The majority of these were male, locals to the area and of the age group 45-54.

When you think of water safety, you might think of young children, swimming lessons, supervision and unguarded swimming pools. But people with pre-existing medical conditions — or adults 'under the influence' are also at a high risk.

So what can you do to avoid becoming a statistic? Follow these simple precautions.

Take note of your condition

Some of the common conditions which may increase the risk of drowning are heart disease, epilepsy, autism, diabetes and Alzeimer’s disease. For 84% of all drownings that occurred in 2019 for people with a pre-existing condition, the medical condition was a major contributing factor.

Make sure that you have taken your medication when you head out into the water. Ensure that you are not trying any new medications just before heading out, in case there are side effects that you are not aware of, such as drowsiness.

If you are taking multiple medications, the drug interactions can be complex and have serious side effects. Of the drowning deaths in 2019 among older people, 65% involved multiple medications.

Kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) also face a higher risk, with drowning one of the leading causes of death in children with this disorder. This is in part due to wandering away from care, the attraction of water for ASD kids, and difficulty in applying skills learnt in one water environment (a pool for instance) to another (a lake).

Don’t drink and swim

Alcohol and swimming are a dangerous combination because alcohol reduces your ability to make clear judgements about how risky a situation may be, reduces coordination, impairs reaction time and reduces the effectiveness of CPR, should you need it. Men aged 25-34 and men over 65 are at a greater risk of drowning due to being under the influence of alcohol and drugs, or a multi-drug interactions .

Let people know where you’re going

If you’re planning on a summer jaunt to an unexplored part of a river, for example, let people know your plans.

Yes, swim between the flags

Practicing good beach safety is essential in Australia. Lifeguards are there to protect you so where possible, swim where you’re in a clear line of sight. That means swimming between the flags at the beach.

Get to know your rips

Even the strongest swimmers can struggle in a rip.

Rips can be hard to spot but it is a skill you can learn.

Stand at a height where you can look down on the beach before you go swimming. Look for channels of water heading back out to the sea from the beach. Rips tend to form a channel as they head out because of the speed of water movement. It often looks darker in colour.

Never jump or dive into unknown waters if they’re murky

If you’re swimming in an area that’s new to you, be it river or sea, never jump or dive into water if you can’t see the bottom. The water may be much shallower than you think, there may be submerged objects and the potential for spinal cord injuries is high.

Supervise, supervise, supervise

Keeping kids safe around backyard swimming pools is easy when you’re paying attention. It’s the second that your back is turned that things can go wrong and very quickly. Always make sure that children are well supervised around swimming pools. Kids under 10 need to be within arms reach at all times if they’re in or by a pool.

All backyard pools should have a gate with a child proof lock to ensure their safety.

Don’t put your child’s safety at risk with inflatables

Never leave your children with inflatables as water safety devices. Even that hilarious giant inflatable unicorn they received for their birthday won’t cut it. They are not legitimate tools to guard the safety of your child in the water.

More information

For more information about water safety, visit the Royal Life Saving Australia website. 

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