Swimming South Africa (SSA) urges the public to be extra vigilant and exceptionally alert this holiday season about water safety to avoid drowning accidents. Death by drowning is a sad and silent reality which leaves immense psychological scars on surviving family members and often devastates communities. These heartbreaking consequences can be reduced by learning to swim. SSA’s mission: ‘every child a swimmer’ aims to provide aquatic programmes and services to the public that will ensure that every child in South Africa is able to swim.
For each drowning death, it is estimated that at least 1 to 4 children suffer a serious near drowning event – leaving many of these children with permanent disabilities. Water safety education and swimming skills is one of the surest ways to prevent drowning accidents. In addition, swimming is a fun loving recreational activity with enormous physical, health and social benefits.
During the holiday season children are often around water for recreational activities and in altered supervision routines when accidents can easily happen. Young children should be constantly supervised whenever they are near water. Drowning accidents do not only happen in pools, rivers, dams and the ocean. Shallow pools, ponds and buckets also pose a real danger. Children’s paddling pools, baths, sinks and troughs should all be emptied immediately after use.
Unsupervised open water near informal settlements and urban areas are also particularly problematic and hazardous areas for young children when they are not accompanied by adults. Do not let young children swim alone even if they have received professional lessons. Encourage older children and adolescents to learn to swim.
Pool parties at home during the festive season are typical recreational activities for South Africans. People are in a celebratory mood, sometimes not noticing children slipping away. Young children are naturally attracted to water, but if unsupervised their recreational activities around swimming pools often have tragic consequences.
There are ten crucial water safety rules.
Rule 1: Learn to swim.
Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered by water. Learning to swim is therefore a survival skill which helps reduce drownings.
Rule 2: Never swim alone.
Although swimming is a survival skill, even good swimmers can drown when they experience difficulties in the water – for instance a cramp. Therefore swimming alone is always unsafe. Ensure that there is always a lifeguard or an adult that can swim with you, in case of an emergency.
Rule 3: Do not swim at a river mouth.
An undercurrent forms where the river and the sea meet which flows in a different direction from the surface current. An undercurrent is very strong and sucks anything and anybody into the sea.
Rule 4: Never dive into unclear or shallow water.
Diving headlong into something invisible underneath the water or into the bottom of a body of water could cause serious damage, unconsciousness or even paralysis.
Rule 5: Do not play in swamps, on rocks or river banks.
Slippery and unstable surfaces near water are always dangerous and may cause sudden falls into unknown depths.
Rule 6: Fence off your pool and preferably use a pool net as well.
Get a lockable cover for jacuzzis or sunken baths. Don’t leave toys in and around the pool when not in use as children may be tempted to retrieve them.
Rule 7: Beware of swift flowing undercurrents.
Water can flow very forcefully through narrow areas, especially during floods when the volume of water strengthens the current.
Rule 8: Check the depth of the water before you enter.
Familiarize yourself with the depth of a river, lake of dam by using a stick.
Rule 9: Have a rope or stick handy to help someone in trouble.
Only go into the water to help someone in trouble if you are a qualified lifesaver. Otherwise try to help someone in trouble by means of a rope or stick or a floatation device tied to a rope that is thrown into the water.
Rule 10: Adult permission and supervision is a must.
Never go swimming without permission and always swim where a parent, guardian or adult may oversee you and your friends.