Water Safety

Haydn IMG_5447.jpg

ABOVE: Haydn from Buckingham House

By Grant J Everett

Public swimming pools always have signs or brochures which let you know how to use the pool in a way that avoids offending or endangering others. Swimming is such fun that sometimes in our high spirits we forget that running is unsafe, as is pushing people, and diving in without checking the depth.

There are lots of rules –even down to the cut and material of your bathers- but these rules have people’s safety in mind. For example, loose garments can snare people and cause drowning. The rules cover safety, comfort and health.

It is not a good idea to enter a public pool with certain illnesses, because of the risk of other people catching them. For example, don’t go swimming when you have flu and diarrhoea.

Some people need to be reminded not to stare at people or pee in the pool. Others need to be reminded that taking drugs or drinking alcohol can contribute to drowning.

Adult swimming lessons

Aquatic Centres and local pools offer a range of swim classes for every age and ability. These range from a beginner’s introduction for adults who only have limited swimming ability, all the way up to advanced classes for confident swimmers who want to perfect their strokes and learn survival skills, such as treading water. Each lesson should cost around $20, and there may be a discount for pensioners. Never learned to swim? It’s never too late!

Does my bum look big in this?

When it comes to what you should wear at the pool, less is more. Generally, you will be expected to wear synthetic fibres like nylon, spandex, or polyester, as cotton clothing absorbs water, making it harder to swim (and thus more dangerous). So, whether you wear budgie smugglers, bikinis or a burquini, it should be okay. If you prefer to cover up, then board shorts and a top are appropriate for both sexes.

Me no fry

Being in the water won’t protect you from the sun one bit. Melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australia, and it kills more people in this country than any other kind of cancerWe have the highest rates of melanoma in the world. So be sure to use sunscreen on all your exposed skin, wear something like a rashie or another kind of synthetic top, and put your hat on whenever you’re out of the water.

Beach Safety

New South Wales has some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. In 2016 alone NSW had over six million visitors hit the waves and catch some rays on the coast. As the ocean is not something to be taken lightly, safety should always be your number one concern. For instance, stay between the flags, never swim alone, and if you need help, stay calm and raise your arm. Of course, pool safety tips apply at the beach, too.


Take notice of all signs or flags at the beach. Some are permanent (such as places where it would be dangerous to dive) while others are just for that day (such as for rip currents, which can move from place to place). There are many other signs that warn swimmers about specific hazards. If there are no red and yellow flags that means DO NOT SWIM. Black and white quartered flags mark the “surfcraft exclusion zone” for surfers, and are found outside of the red and yellow flags.

Hitting rock bottom

What’s under the ocean may not come to mind when you think about ocean safety, but it’s an important consideration. Rule number one: don’t blindly dive into the water! Going into a submerged rock, reef or sandbar is a good way to end up with a neck injury.

Swimming ability

Can you swim? If not, then getting literally out of your depth in the ocean is a bad idea. Knowing how to tread water is extremely important, as it can be the difference between life-or-death if you get into trouble.

Rip currents

A rip current is a narrow jet of water that flows away from the shore at greater speed than the waves come in. If you get caught in a rip it can be quite a shock. Around 80% of beach rescues are due to rip currents. The most important rule is swim between the flags.

You can spot rip currents from the beach if you know what to look for: If you can see calm-looking water between the breaking waves, be careful! Sand, murkiness and debris are also danger signs. Once caught in a rip, many swimmers panic and attempt to fight the current by swimming directly towards the shore. This can lead to exhaustion and drowning, especially if you panic. Remember that a rip current is long (going away from the beach) but narrow (parallel with the beach. Your best chance is to swim PARALLEL along the beach, heading for white waves. The foam is an indication that the rip doesn’t extend that far, and the waves can sweep you back to shore.

If you can’t swim out of the rip, signal the lifeguards by waving your arms and calling out for help. And don’t panic!

Note that if somebody gets stuck in a rip current they can easily drag would-be rescuers down with them. The best thing a bystander can do is alert the lifeguards, or find something that floats and throw it to them.





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