Life Saving Victoria shares its top tips to stay safe around the water ahead of the unofficial long weekend

As COVID continues to dominate the headlines, Life Saving Victoria is worried warnings about the risks around water are going unheard. 

Since 1 December, 13 people have tragically lost their lives in Victorian waters, with the majority of drownings occurring at inland and coastal waterways. 

This brings the fatal drowning toll this financial year to date to 29, four more than the 10-year average. Sadly, five of those drownings involved kids younger than 10. 

With warm weather forecast across the unofficial Australia Day long weekend, Life Saving Victoria’s general manager health promotion and communications Dr Bernadette Matthews is sharing her top five tips to stay safe around water.  

1. Swim at patrolled beach locations during patrolled times 

Dr Matthews says the statistics are clear, between the red and yellow flags at the beach is the safest place to swim. 

“Overwhelmingly, people drown at unpatrolled locations, and this is something we’re especially concerned about with people seeking out remote areas to swim in a bid to beat the crowds and socially distance,” Dr Matthews said.  

“While we recommend keeping your distance on the sand, you should always swim between the red and yellow flags, where lifesavers can assist if you get into trouble. 

“Already this season, our lifesavers have undertaken 438 rescues across Victoria, each one of which could have had a very different outcome if we weren’t there. 

“Remember, if we can’t see you, we can’t save you, so find a patrolled location near you on the Beachsafe app.” 

2. When swimming at an inland waterway, go with a friend  

“Victorians are spoilt for choice when it comes to inland waterways. From the Yarra to the Murray and everywhere in between, we have picturesque locations to enjoy the water,” Dr Matthews said. 

“If you are planning to go to an inland waterway this Australia Day holiday, we urge you to take a friend and keep an eye out for one another – even if you don’t plan to swim. 

“About half of all drowning deaths during the past decade resulted from unintentional entry to water, so be aware of slippery or unstable edges. 

“Even if the water looks calm, remember that inland waterways can have many hidden dangers including submerged objects, strong currents and cooler-than-expected temperatures year-round, which can be a shock, so enter slowly so you can retreat if the conditions are more hazardous than they appear.” 

3. Actively supervise children  

“This is a big one,” Dr Matthews said. “Following two years of extended lockdowns and millions of missed swimming lessons across approximately 160,000 Victorian kids, we’ve unfortunately seen a regression in swimming skills for many young people.  

“While we really encourage parents and carers re-enroll kids in swimming lessons as soon as possible, it’s important to note that active adult supervision is actually the primary prevention against childhood drowning. 

“This means setting a designated supervisor so there’s no confusion over who’s watching the kids, and keeping under fives in arm’s reach, and under 10s in eyesight. 

“It only takes 20 seconds and a few centimeters of water for a child to drown, so don’t let a lapse in concentration lead to devastation.” 

4. Don’t drink and drown 

Dr Matthews says the adage of never drink driving applies to drowning, too. 

“During the past decade, a third of Victorian drowning deaths have involved alcohol or other drugs, so if you are planning on having a drink to unwind this Australia Day holiday, wait until you’ve left the water.” 

“Having alcohol and other drugs in your system significantly increases your chances of drowning, and quite frankly, it’s just not worth the risk.” 

5. Wear a lifejacket – and make sure it fits!  

It goes without saying that lifejackets save lives, but did you know that 79 per cent of boating-relating drowning deaths during the past decade involved no or improper lifejacket use?  

“It’s a pretty shocking statistic, especially when you consider how easy a risk it is to fix,” said Dr Matthews. 

“Boaters and fishers, please, no matter how experienced you are or how well you know the area, put on a lifejacket. 

“This includes if you’re rock fishing, which is an activity we’ve seen increasingly associated with both fatal and non-fatal drownings in recent years.” 

Finally, Dr Matthews said no matter where you’re going or what you’re doing this Australia Day holiday, you should check the conditions before entering or approaching the water, including weather, wind and tide forecasts.  

“Drowning is preventable. With so many fatalities, we’re concerned people are underestimating the risks around water and overestimating their abilities with fatal consequences,” Dr Matthews said.

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