Summertime in Australia is all about beating the heat.
If you don’t have a swimming pool, or you’re looking to get back to nature, there are hundreds of rivers, lakes and beaches in which to do this.
Unfortunately, many people, and indeed many parents, don’t think carefully enough about the safety of themselves and their children when swimming in naturally occurring waterways. Beaches, rivers and lakes are not anything like swimming pools. They present an entirely new set of considerations for parents in keeping their children safe from injury and drowning.
So, if you’re planning to take your little ones swimming this summer, have a look at our tips to keep them happy, healthy and safe.
1. Teach kids to swim.
In Australia, teaching kids to swim isn’t just a good idea, it’s a great one. Children can begin supervised interaction in the water from the time they are infants, and with regular lessons, even toddlers can gain a command of basic swimming techniques. Although simple, and certainly not enough to leave a child unattended, swimming lessons might just be what saves your child if they find themselves in a scary situation. Parents can teach their own children to swim, but for best results, it pays to have a professional swim teacher on your side to help your kids get the hang of it.
2. Within arms’ reach, within sight.
Many parents struggle with water safety as their kids fight for their own independence to have fun and enjoy themselves in the water. However, it’s important to remain clear on one thing above all others: distance. Kids in the water who are aged ten and under should always be within arms’ reach of a parent or other strong swimmer. This is especially true in areas like rivers and lakes where uneven bottoms may cause them to lose their footing. For children older than 10, and again, this is based on swimming ability, parents should always be able to see them easily in the water.
3. Patrolled beaches only.
There are lots of great places to swim in Australia, and beaches are definitely at the top of that list. However, under no circumstances should your kids be swimming on beaches that aren’t patrolled by lifeguards. Just because you think the beach looks safe, does not mean it is, and a beach without flags is likely to be full of danger. Educate your kids on the importance of swimming between the flags, and make it very clear to them that if there are no flags on the beach, swimming is not on the cards.
4. Buddy system.
No matter how old your kids are, they should always swim with a buddy of equal or better swimming ability. A parent or adult is the best person to fill this role, but pre-teens and teenagers should be safe swimming together as long as both are good swimmers. A buddy system means there is always somebody to raise the alarm if something goes wrong, and that there is someone keeping watch at all times. Drowning is a silent death, and a buddy could be the one who prevents it.
5. Too fast for you.
Summer might bring lots of sunshine, but it can also bring heavy rains to some areas of Australia. Rain means that rivers, creeks and streams flow much faster than usual, and contain much more water. It’s never safe to swim in a flooded or fast flowing body of water, and although it’s fun to splash in puddles, your children need to know where to draw the line. Fast flowing water is impossible to judge, and even strong swimmers can be washed away in the current. Flooded water often has dangerous debris floating in it that can cause serious harm to swimmers, or even trap them underneath the water.
6. Feet first.
Every year across Australia, swimmers are paralysed and seriously injured by jumping or diving into the water head first. This is an easy mistake to make in the excitement of cooling off, but it’s also an easy one to avoid. Kids love to jump, but in unfamiliar waters, and in waters where you cannot see the bottom, kids need to know that the only way in is slowly, and feet first. By entering the water feet first, it’s easier to judge the texture of the bottom, and easier to avoid debris in the water.
7. Life jackets are not optional.
If you’re planning on making the most of the summer water fun by getting out on a boat or other watercraft, it’s important to set a good example to kids by using life jackets. With waterways often busy at this time of year, and the risk of injury is high when falling off a boat, life jackets are a must. Even if a child is a capable swimmer, a life jacket can save their life by keeping them afloat if they’ve hit their head or if they’re unable to keep themselves afloat. Be a good role model by wearing a life jacket yourself, and make it clear to kids that without one, there’s no playing around watercraft.
Tragically, drowning deaths are often too easy to avoid if parents and supervisors had kept a closer eye, or had been more safety oriented around water. Simple tips like these ones can make all the difference, and we hope they do make a difference to you and your family.