Open water education programs deliver vital skills for Victorian children

Water safety in open waterways is a key area of focus for LSV’s education programs, with research showing this is where the highest proportion of drowning incidents occur.

As a result of LSV’s Risk and Research team’s ongoing monitoring and evaluation of such programs over the years, many programmatic aspects undergo adaptions and tweaks in order to continue to meet the needs of the community, often delivering exciting results in the form of extended programs.

Earlier this year, LSV’s Research team completed an evaluation of the Bush Nippers pilot program, as well as a retrospective look at the Open Water Learning Experience (OWLE) program, which has been running and evolving for 20 years.

Bush Nippers

The Bush Nippers program is part of the Public Water Safety Initiative, funded by the Victorian Government and was developed in response to a rise in drowning incidents in inland waterways. Also, as highlighted in the Victorian Drowning Report, people in regional areas are almost twice as likely to drown compared with those in metropolitan Melbourne.

This lifesaving program, modelled off the coastal Nippers program, introduces children aged 5 to 14 years to water safety skills and knowledge through participation in safe, fun and organised activities in regional Victoria.

LSV Manager – Research, Rhiannon Birch said the research found that the program was successful in increasing the water safety knowledge, lifesaving skills and confidence of children around water.

“The water safety knowledge of participants increased by 23 per cent in the under 9 age group and 8 per cent in the under 12 age group. Key skills learned include survival swimming, floating and propulsion; rescues, first aid and CPR; safe use of lifejackets and Nipper boards; and teamwork.”

Just as importantly, the evaluation found Bush Nippers was a huge hit among the children, their families, the schools involved and the local councils.

Places filled up quickly, with all programs fully booked in Echuca, Shepparton, Wodonga and Ballarat. Unfortunately, the program at Wodonga was cancelled because of the bushfires and Ballarat programs were cut short due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

For those who did participate in the whole program, many children could not wait to come back next year, Ms Birch said.

“Through surveys and interviews with the age managers (instructors), kids and parents, our team identified a range of modifications that could improve the pilot program. LSV’s education team is now working on these recommendations around training, program activities, and logistics and to make Bush Nippers even better for 2020/21.”

Click here to see the full evaluation report.


The long-running OWLE program was developed to create ‘Everyday Lifesavers’ out of Victorian children by teaching them practical and engaging water safety, lifesaving and emergency response skills in their local open waterways.

Aligned to the Victorian Curriculum, schools utilise LSV’s expertise to deliver half or full-day programs across Victoria. Specially trained LSV education instructors guide students through activities including body boarding, rescues, lifejackets, CPR and beach flags.

More than 290,000 Victorian school students have participated since the year 2000 – more than 90,000 of these in the past five years at 358 different schools around Victoria.

“This means over a quarter of a million kids have developed practical water safety skills and knowledge to help them make smart decisions around water,” Ms Birch said.

The Research team has surveyed hundreds of teachers and students since 2015 and found that the OWLE program is highly valued.

“In fact, 100 per cent of teachers would recommend the OWLE program to other schools,” Ms Birch said.

“The key takeaways for students are typically water safety tips for being more careful around water and the types of hazards that lie below the water’s surface.”

The study showed a key learning for students was that 43 per cent understood that rivers can hold hidden dangers. In addition, 43 cent of children said they were more careful around water as a result of participating in the OWLE program.

“Being able to learn and practice skills in open waterways makes the OWLE program a really enjoyable experience for those involved”, Ms Birch said.

“The focus of both these programs is for children to develop vital water safety and lifesaving skills and knowledge, in a really fun, active way. Through evaluations like these, we can review what worked and what didn’t, and how we can improve a product, delivery style or service for the next program,” Ms Birch said.

LSV would like to acknowledge support for the OWLE program over the years from the Victorian Government’s Play it Safe by the Water and the Federal Government’s Respect the River campaigns, plus the many local government, philanthropic trusts and funding bodies for their valuable support.

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