In Australia we’re so lucky to have such stunning world-famous beaches, beautiful rivers and lakes, and gorgeous summer weather. With backyard pools and local swimming baths aplenty, most of us are spoilt for choice on places to splash about during the warm months.
But enjoying some fun in the sun comes with plenty of risks. Drownings, shark attacks and jellyfish stings are on the rise and skin cancer kills more in Australia than in any other country. It’s therefore never been more important to know what to do to swim safely in summer.
How to Keep Safe in the Water
Here are some important swimming precautions to remember to make sure you and your children are safe in and around the water during summer.
Sun and heat safety:
- Slip, slop, slap. We’ve heard it a thousand times before but it’s so vital in this skin cancer capital of the world country of ours. Always be sure to load yourself and your kids up with SPF 30+ at least 15 minutes prior to going out in the sun and reapply every two hours, or after going swimming. Wear a hat, light clothing covering the arms and legs and don’t forget to slide on some sunnies too.
- Load up on liquids. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke can be serious and life threatening, causing fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, cramps and fainting or unconsciousness. Babies, children and the elderly are most at risk. Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day to minimise the risk of heat stroke occurring.
- Avoid vigorous activities in the heat. On very hot days, it’s vital not to overexert yourself or let your kids run around exhausting themselves as this only increases the risk of heat exhaustion. Chill out by sitting in the shade or inside, or take a dip in the pool to cool off!
Beach and river safety:
Basic water safety when swimming at beaches and rivers must also be observed:
- Observe signs. Warning signs are put on beaches and near inland waterways for good reason – to warn people of the dangers. If a place you’re visiting has a sign advising of dangerous currents, diving in shallow water, hazardous creatures (such as jellyfish and stingers), sharks, crocodiles or high waves, it is imperative you do not swim there.
- Swim between the flags. It’s an Aussie cliché but for good reason – the only beaches considered safe are those that are patrolled by lifesavers, who will be straight in there to help if you get in trouble. Unpatrolled beaches often have far more dangerous conditions, and there are no lifesavers to help you if you find yourself in a nasty situation.
- Beware of rips. Rips are dangerous currents that can quickly sweep us out to sea. With around 17,000 rips on beaches around Australia every day and an average of one fatal drowning a week, they are the number one hazard for beachgoers. When going to the beach for a swim, it’s vital you first check to see if there are any rip currents. The tell-tale signs of a rip being present are deeper, darker water with fewer breaking waves than in the surrounding area, rippled or foamy water, and/or sandy coloured water flowing out to sea. If the water looks calmer and less wavy than in other parts of the beach, there’s a good chance it’s because there’s a rip. Steer well clear of this area. If you’re caught in a rip, stay calm as it won’t pull you under. Raise your arm and call for help. Never try to swim against the rip – instead try floating with it in the hope it takes you back to shore, or swim parallel with the beach and then let the breaking waves bring you in. To significantly reduce your chances of being caught in a rip, swim between the red and yellow flags on a lifesaver patrolled beach.
- Watch out for dangerous marine life. Australia has some of the most deadly marine life in the world, as well as many others that may not be able to kill you but can still render a pretty painful sting. Tropical stingers like deadly box jellyfish and the Irukandji stinger are common in the tropical waters north of Bundaberg in QLD and Geraldton in WA. The stings from these creatures can cause excruciating muscular pain, vomiting, respiratory difficulties, cardiac arrest and even death. When visiting the coastline in northern QLD, WA or NT, be sure to look for signs advising of the presence of these stingers, swim only at patrolled beaches and consider wearing a special stinger suit. If someone is stung, call 000 immediately, pour vinegar on the sting and provide CPR if needed. Whilst marine stingers like bluebottles and jellyfish aren’t deadly, they do have a nasty sting. If stung, wash the affected area with sea water and pick off any remaining tentacles. Applying a cold pack can relieve the pain too. Despite the myths, vinegar, urine and sand do not help the stings! Obviously, areas known to inhabit sharks and crocodiles should be well avoided, as should swimming during dusk, because this is often when they are most active.
- Stay close to the shore. For anyone who isn’t a strong swimmer, It’s always safest to say close to the shore where people and lifesavers can see you and help you if you get into difficulty. Anyone who does not know how to swim should obviously not be left alone or allowed to venture into water past their waistline.
- Safety in numbers. If you have children, don’t leave them unattended around water, and be sure you swim with someone who may be able to call out for help if you get into trouble.
- Watch out for shallow water. Shallow water can be far more dangerous than deep. To avoid disastrous head or spinal injuries, make sure you know the depth of water and check that there are no sandbanks or rocks underneath before jumping or diving in.
- Be careful in rivers or near fast moving water. Even water that may not look very fast from the side can have undercurrents that could quickly sweep someone downstream. If someone is caught in a river, throw them a rope or branch to grab onto.
- Wear lifejackets. With an average of 51 Australians drowning each year while using watercraft, it’s vital you always wear a lifejacket when in a boat or on a jet ski.
- Know what to do if in difficulty. Ensure you and your child know what to do if in trouble in the water. Stay calm, float on your back and raise your arm to get the attention of a lifeguard. Shout for help if you can manage it without swallowing water.
- Don’t leave children unattended. Some shocking facts about drowning: it can take just 20 seconds for a child to drown, it can happen without a sound and it can occur in water as shallow as 6 centimetres. On average a child dies every week in Australia from drownings that could have been prevented. Make sure you stay within an arm’s length of your child in the pool and watch them at all times, be it at a swimming pool or a public facility.
- Sufficient fencing. If you own a pool it’s not just common sense, it’s the law to ensure there is a fence around it. Each state has its own law, but most generally require that pools and spas have a self-closing and locking fence of at least 1.2m high. Check your local laws and ensure you have the right one fitted.
- Check the depth. Diving into shallow water has the potential to cause traumatic spinal injuries, so make sure you know the depth before you dive into a pool.
General summer swimming safety:
- Don’t drink and swim. Alcohol and swimming do not mix and are almost always a recipe for disaster. Never go in the water after a few drinks.
- Know how to swim. Knowing how to swim is the best defence against drowning, which has been on the increase in recent years. The Australian Royal Lifesaving Society advises that all children and adults should have basic swimming and water safety skills in order to prevent themselves or others from drowning. If you want to be confident of your children’s time in the pool, let them take swimming lessons from an early age. Ensuring your and your child’s safety in the water begins with participating in formal swimming lessons. At Tanya’s Tadpoles we hold classes for all ages and levels, in the comfort of your own pool.