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  • Writer's pictureSalty Sea Dog

Drowning season is here - stay safe

Did you know that drowning is the second leading cause of accidental death in South Africa after road accidents?

Having spent 30 years of surfing at Gonubie Beach over the December holiday season I have witnessed my fair share of shattered family holidays as lifeless bodies are pulled from the river and ocean.

Unlike backyard swimming pools, the ocean can be a major threat to life for both children AND adults, especially those that come from landlocked provinces. In this short blog I will share 3 tips to staying safe in the ocean this festive season.

1. Obey the lifeguards and understand the importance of the demarcated bathing area.

Every morning, the lifeguards on duty will survey the conditions of the ocean, the swell (waves/breakers), the tides, the shift of sandbanks and rip currents. Based on the conditions of the day, the lifeguards will set up a "safezone" for swimmers. This zone is marked by two red and yellow flags and will be the area the lifeguards primarily focus their water safety efforts on.

Swim in the bathing area and obey the lifeguards.

If you swim outside the zone, the lifeguards may not see you or they will blow their whistle and direct you back into the bathing safe area. Don't make the lifeguards job difficult, swim in between the flags - this is for your own good!

2. Never mix alcohol with salt water.

Even though alcohol is banned by law from ALL public beaches in South Africa, enforcement of this law in some provinces, especially the Eastern Cape, seriously lacks or does not exist at all. I have personally seen more adults drown after consuming alcohol than unsupervised children.

The ocean is not a swimming pool. The ocean is alive and conditions are constantly changing.

Alcohol dulls the senses and impairs judgement. Often a person will swim further out than they are in normal circumstances comfortable with, not realising the distance back to safety or how far from the safe area the current has pulled them. Once they try to return to shoreline or safe area, they only begin to realise that they are in difficulty. In cold water, energy is burnt quickly and before you know it you have run out of energy to keep your head above the water. Game over.

If you find yourself intoxicated at the beach with friends and family and you absolutely have to get in the water to cool down, follow this simple rule: Do not wade deeper than knee high into the water. If you can stand, you cannot drown.

3. Do not panic... just float.

Practice floating on your back in the ocean. You will find it's much easier than if you try it in a freshwater swimming pool. It is the salt in the ocean that allows us to float much easier and by floating, instead of panicking and frantically using up all your energy in distress, your chances of survival increase massively.

In the case of being stuck in a really strong current you will fight a losing battle trying to swim against it.

In the case of being stuck in a really strong current you will fight a losing battle trying to swim against it. Luckily, most currents do have an end point and even in some cases, currents that suck out to sea do a full loop and push you back to the beach - so float, do not panic, let the current take you and focus on floating and breathing air instead of choking on water in distress.

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