How to keep safe on the beach this festive season

Drowning is a year-round problem but it peaks in summer, so do not let a careless moment ruin your year-end vacation.

Netcare 911’s seasonal drowning statistics for the period October 2016 to September 2017

For South Africans, summertime spells fun, sunshine and outdoor activities involving watersport and swimming. However, it can unfortunately also be a time fraught with tragedy for those who are inexperienced, unable to swim and who may for some or other reason be vulnerable to drowning.

David Stanton, head of clinical leadership at Netcare 911, says emergency medical services providers such as Netcare 911 tend to receive more calls related to drowning and water-associated emergency incidents during December and January than any other months.

“Our statistics reveal that the greatest percentage of all drowning incidents during the year occur during the peak holiday periods. “This is attributable to the high volumes of tourists, both foreign and local, who flock to the beaches during school holidays and over the festive season,” Stanton said.

“Incidents of drowning are also significantly higher in the coastal areas than inland during December and January.”
Looking at data extracted from Netcare 911 for the period 1 October 2016 to 30 September 2017, as much as 62% of all drowning incidents occurred during peak summer months.
“When reviewing statistics for the entire year, coastal areas reflect 55% of all drowning incidents.”

Netcare 911 gives the following tips for safety at the beach:

  • Be absolutely vigilant where small children and older individuals are concerned. Keep a watchful eye on children at all times when around water.
  • Swim at beaches where lifeguards are on duty and keep to the specifically demarcated areas designated for safe swimming. For your own safety swim in the areas closest to the lifeguards.
  • Be mindful of warning signs that may indicate dangerous swimming conditions such as strong currents, sharks and other dangerous sea life as well as contaminated water.
  • Please remember that swimming in the ocean, where there is wave action and at times dangerous currents and sea life, is very different from swimming in a pool.
  • Young children and inexperienced swimmers should wear life jackets or swimming aids to ensure their safety.
  • Be careful not to dive into water where you cannot see the bottom. It is particularly dangerous to dive into the water headfirst as you could very easily injure your neck.
  • Check the weather report before going to the beach. Be careful of lightening in particular and do not enter the water until at least 30 minutes after the thunder and lightning has stopped.
  • Steer clear of the ocean if you notice a choppy current with murky water.
  • If you get pulled out to sea, stay calm and save your energy. Allow the current to carry you for a while and then swim parallel to the shore, until such time as you are out of the current.
  • If you cannot swim to the shore, float or tread water until you are safe from the rip current.
  • Do not be ashamed to call for help if you are in trouble. Anyone, even the best swimmers, can run into difficulties at some or other time. It is important to signal for a lifeguard as soon as possible. The best way to do so when swimming in the ocean is to raise your arm as far out of the water as you can and to wave it around. The lifeguards will be with you as soon as they can. In the interim, stay calm and try to tread water, or if possible float on your back, until they reach you.
  • Be mindful of the waves as they are great deal more powerful than you may think.
    Pay close attention to children and elderly people especially, as wave action can easily result in a loss of footing, even in shallow water.
  • Stay sober at the beach as alcohol will not only impair your judgement, making you less careful, but it will also dehydrate you.
  • Use sunscreen, wear a hat, use an umbrella or a tent for shade and cover yourself up during the hottest time of day, which is generally between 10am and 4pm.
  • Do not make use of a floatation device such as an inflatable bed, boat, noodle and other items unless you can swim properly. If you do go boating ensure that the boat is safe and that you are wearing a lifejacket.
    Don’t go out so sea unless you have checked the weather conditions.
  • When fishing be careful of walking on slippery rocks in case you lose your footing. Also be mindful of changing tides and rough seas that can knock you off the rocks.

“In any emergency the most important thing to do is contact the correct emergency number immediately,” Stanton said.

“Try and memorise the number for emergency services in your area and keep the number saved on your cell phone and close to your landline telephone.

“In many cases, during the panic of a medical emergency, people cannot remember the correct number or cannot find where they have written it down,” Stanton added.

What to do in the event of drowning?

  • Get the victim out of the water as soon as possible, but do not become a victim yourself. Make sure it is safe for you to enter the water first.
  • Handle the victim with care. Many submersion incidents are associated with neck injuries, so keep movement to the back and neck to a minimum.
  • Assess to see if the victim is awake by asking, “Hello can you hear me?”
  • Check for breathing by looking at the chest for no longer than 10 seconds.
    If the victim is not breathing or not breathing normally (i.e. gasping), call for immediate medical assistance.
  • Call, or have someone call, a recognised medical emergency service provider such as Netcare 911 on 082 911 as soon as possible. Whoever calls for the ambulance, must give the dispatcher an accurate location of the incident and a contact number at the scene. Never hang up on the operator and always return to the rescuer to inform them that you have called for help.
  •  If the victim is not breathing, immediately start CPR, beginning with chest compressions. Keep doing CPR at a ratio of 30 chest compressions, and then 2 breaths.
  • CPR is vital, even if it is an amateur administering it. Keep on doing it until someone who is trained in advanced life support arrives and can take over.
  • All parents should learn how to administer child CPR as it differs from adult CPR. All people can benefit from CPR training – it is not a difficult skill to learn.

According to Stanton, having multiple layers of safety such as a certified safety net, a fence with locked gate, a child-minder and a surface alarm around the pool and spa areas at home or around other open bodies of water, can prevent accidents and drowning.

“A basic course in first aid and cardio-pulmonary resuscitation can make a dramatic difference in the outcome should the skills be applied timeously,” he said.

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