LSV’s award-winning Open Water Learning Experience (OWLE) is being rolled out as a Grey Medallion course for older adults (55+) at Hampton Life Saving Club from mid-late February, following a highly-successful pilot program.

In the recently-released Victorian Drowning Report, people aged 45-64 had the highest age-specific fatal drowning rate in 2017/18, with 14 people in this age group dying as a result of drowning – a 35% increase compared with the 10-year average.

A pilot Grey Medallion OWLE program was held at Torquay in 2017, teaching participants skills including CPR, rip currents and safe entries and exits, as well as providing other benefits, such as forming friendships, improving happiness and an increased motivation for an active lifestyle.

“The proportion of participants who felt they possessed sufficient knowledge to avoid getting into hazardous situations in and around water increased from 25% to 92% after completion of the pilot program,” says Kate McLaughlin, LSV Development Projects Manager.

The proportion of participants reporting their resuscitation and water safety skills and knowledge as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ also increased from 33% pre-program to 92% post-program. Most participants (92%) described increased confidence participating in aquatic activities and applying water safety knowledge.


Pilot program participant Denise Hibbins, aged 60, admits to feeling “absolutely terrified” around water most of her life.

“The older I got, the more scared I became,” admits Denise. “Chuck me in a pool and I’m fine, but in the ocean, I just panic. After the program, I felt a whole lot more comfortable and safer going into the water.”

Denise retired from her work as a social welfare worker because of injury – a bad back, as well as knee problems and neck injuries. However, this didn’t stop her being able to participate in the OWLE Grey Medallion program, which is suitable to all skill and fitness levels.

“If I can do it, anyone can,” says Denise. “It was really good. I remember learning how to enter the water safely and dive under waves. If I got caught in a rip now, I’d feel comfortable that I could survive it.”

She said the instructors were supportive and encouraging, taking participants out in the water one or two at a time, supervising at all times.

“It’s what parents do when they are teaching their children to swim,” says Denise. “They coached me through and made sure we were all okay. They were very aware of my fears and worries and helped me address those.”


Participant Michael Carroll, 60, is a strong swimmer, competing in the Pier to Pub ocean swim each year. He signed up to the Grey Medallion OWLE program on the advice of his wife, a nurse who felt he needed to learn important lifesaving skills.

“I always liked the surf, but never knew much about it. I didn’t feel comfortable I would know what to do if my children got into trouble in the water,” says Michael. “My kids learnt DRSABCD CPR and First-Aid procedures, but this was the first time I got the chance to learn about it too.”

He says, as a semi-retired accountant, that the procedure-based DRSABCD approach appealed and that he now knew clearly what to do if called upon to rescue someone. Previously, he had gotten into difficulty trying to rescue an elderly lady in Merimbula, who floated past him in a rip and got herself into trouble. His first instinct was to go to her aid and he went to her without a plan.

“She was in shock and when I reached her, she panicked and climbed all over me – I almost drowned,” says Michael. “Thankfully, a man on a surfboard came past, but now I know to find a flotation device first, before heading out to rescue someone in case that happened again. I’d plan my actions before rushing out to help.”

He says it was very enjoyable doing the Grey Medallion OWLE program and he was happy that LSV had offered to welcome the older generation back to the beach for further study if they wanted to join beach patrols.

After a spate of drownings in older Victorians last year due to medical events, such as heart attacks, Michael says he would also recommend a check in with your doctor each September to re-assess fitness and swimming ability prior to the summer season.

Find out more information about the Grey Medallion program here.

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