Water safety – know your risk

Broken Hill region residents and visitors may be tempted to take a quick dip in flooded streets and causeways to get cool but Royal Life Saving NSW is warning people to be realistic about their skill level in water, men and those aged over 65 being most at risk of drowning.

Following a tragic Christmas and New Year on the water nationally, and with plenty of warm weather to come, Royal Life Saving NSW (RLS NSW) is urging people to be prepared for a safer 2024 by getting to know their risks and limitations around the water.

RLS NSW/ACT/TAS General Manager of Drowning Prevention and Education, Craig Roberts, said last summer 17 per cent of all drownings took place during heatwaves and weekends, and cautioned against complacency for the months ahead with a reminder to learn the risks and limitations that apply to you.

“Last summer, 100 per cent of drowning deaths were in unpatrolled areas and of all drownings, 83 per cent were men,” said Mr Roberts.

“Last summer’s drowning toll set a tragic record and this summer is already on track to surpassing that with 42 tragedies in Australian inland and coastal waterways since December 1.

“Our hearts go out to those families affected by recent tragedies. We hope they are seeking and receiving the support they need at this time as we urge people to continue to exercise caution,” he said.

RLS NSW’s five key safety reminders are:

  • know your limitations and know the risks
  • never go into deep water alone,
  • wear a life jacket when on the water and fishing,
  • avoid alcohol while around water
  • actively supervise children at all times when around water.

“Knowing your limitations applies to all of us in different ways,” says Mr Roberts. “With floods and heatwaves changing inland waterways, and people accessing unpatrolled areas, it’s more important than ever to know your risk factors, to really know your abilities and limitations to manage those risks and understand how you can be better prepared.

Knowing your limitations can help avoid drowning risks for all ages and stages of life:

  • Older adults represented a 64 per cent increase in drowning deaths last year. For over 65s, RLS NSW says get to know your health and fitness levels in different conditions, check medications and any medical conditions before you go into the water.
  • Men are still at the greatest risk of drowning, representing 83 per cent of the state’s drowning toll. RLS NSW say that understanding your swim and survival skills, avoiding alcohol, and wearing life jackets when participating in water activities is essential because swim and survival skills may be different on land, in water, and between pools, surf and rivers.
  • By-standers, friends, and family members tragically made up 5 per cent of last year’s drowning toll, which were attempts to rescue others. Know your ability to help someone in trouble and avoid getting into trouble yourself by learning or brushing up on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and water-safety and rescue skills. Keep swimming lessons ongoing (adults and kids) to maintain water survival skills.
  • Pools are the leading site of drowning among children under five. Keep children enrolled in regular and ongoing swimming lessons to maintain their skills, keep active watch (within arm’s reach) of kids under five at all times and know the abilities of older children.

“We are lucky to have so many ways to enjoy the water in NSW – whether fishing, cooling off in a pool, gathering at a river, lake or beach – you can make the most of these wonderful community assets by learning the risks,” Mr Roberts said.

“Socialising in and around the water is part of our summer way of life and whether you’re fishing, boating, swimming, picnicking or playing on shore, being prepared is the key to making the most of this time with family and friends.”

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