#SummerSafety: Don’t let the madness of summer turn to sadness

There is nothing quite like cooling off in the water on a hot summer's day and according to the South African Weather Service higher than normal temperatures are expected this summer. Bodies of water like the ocean, rivers, dams or swimming pools always pose a risk. Be safe this summer and prevent drownings by following the tips provided.

The Numbers

166 The number of water incidents from 1 October '18 to 21 October '19.
14 Children under the age of 14 are most vulnerable.

Most people look forward to the end of the year, where they can finally take some time off to relax and unwind, and you should! But, unfortunately, accidents still happen and even more so during this time. The risk of drownings is especially high during this time.

The ER24 Contact Centre received a total of 166 water-related incidents during 1 October 2018 and 21 October 2019. The Western Cape, with 76 incidents, is the province with the highest amount of water-related incidents.

NSRI’s data shows that KwaZulu-Natal has the highest number of drownings, followed by the Eastern Cape. Most of these drownings are inland in rivers, streams and dams and most of the victims are male. Children under the age of 14 are most vulnerable.

According to the World Health Organization, drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide. Children, males and individuals with increased access to water are most at risk of drowning. Males are especially at risk of drowning, with twice the overall mortality rates of females. Studies suggest that the higher drowning rates among males are due to increased exposure to water and riskier behaviour such as swimming alone, drinking alcohol before swimming alone and boating.

The type of emergencies that NSRI responds to the most are rip current related or flood-related, i.e. children trying to cross flooding rivers.

Line of (Rescue) Communication

ER24 frequently gets called to scenes of drownings either by members of the public or the NSRI. The line of communication when it comes to sea rescues is explained here by Craig Lambinon, NSRI’s media spokesman.

“Lifeguards do many incidental rescues on a lifeguard protected beach. Often these are termed ‘assistance to prevent a drowning accident’ as lifeguards are actively watching. If they notice someone who could get into trouble, they intervene and encourage, and assist, the bather/s to shallower water or if the bather/s has drifted outside of the safe swimming zone, they call the bather/s back to the safe area.

“In a drowning in progress incident, that is being reacted to by lifeguards in or close to a bathing area, lifeguards invariably rescue the bathers and then take appropriate action. Outside of a lifeguarded beach, multiple agencies respond including Sea Rescue. The first responders on the scene get flotation to the patients. NSRI activates the nearest sea rescue station, who respond with rescue swimmers and rescue craft and NSRI automatically activates EMS and, depending on the area, law enforcement, Fire and Rescue Services and the SA Police services. The NSRI investigates the availability of the nearest helicopter search and rescue platform (a helicopter that has a rescue swimmer/rescue diver and extrication from water capabilities) - at all times liaising with the first responders on scene who can cancel any or all of these resources if the rescue is successful and not requiring any further support.”

Bystanders and the Pink Buoys

The concerning rate of bystanders drowning in rescues compelled the NSRI to initiate the Pink Rescue Buoy Campaign, headed by Andrew Ingram, their Drowning Prevention Manager in November 2017.

These bright pink rescue buoys are hung on strategically placed signs and hope to remind people to take care when entering the water – and not to swim if lifeguards are not on duty.

If there is an incident and someone needs help, these buoys can be thrown to that person, providing emergency flotation. There are clear graphics on the sign which explain how to use the buoy. Most importantly, the emergency number for the closest Sea Rescue station is printed on the sign.

If anyone decides, against advice, to enter the water, the Pink Rescue Buoy provides flotation for that person as well as for the casualty.

Currently, the NSRI has 463 Pink Rescue Buoys at drowning hot spots around the country. The concept of a unique colour coupled with the need for them to be highly visible in the surf resulted in the signature luminous pink. Theft was also a challenge when first presenting the idea, so with the result, if you see a pink rescue buoy, you know it belongs to the NSRI.

#SummerSafety tips

ER24’s safety tips around pools:

  • Secure your pool area with appropriate barriers. Barriers that can’t be pushed down by little kids.
  • Never leave children unsupervised near water.
  • Stay within arm’s length from small children as they submerge very quickly – especially if the water is murky.
  • Make sure that children don’t play rough in the pool and jump on top of one another.
  • It is important that adults who supervise must be able to swim as well.
  • Remember that anyone, including people who can swim, is at risk of drowning.
  • Avoid taking risks and being overconfident.

ER24’s safety tips around beaches:

  • Swim where there are lifeguards on duty. Go to the beach during lifeguard patrolling hours. It will usually be from 10:00 - 18:00. Don’t swim before or after that. You can still visit the beach at that time but try to stay out of the water until lifeguards arrive.
  • Make sure that lifeguards see you in the water. Don’t swim outside the designated swimming area, i.e. outside the flags. This area is chosen because there are no currents, and it is outside the surf zones.
  • Swimmers need to watch out for surfers and surfers need to watch out for swimmers.
  • Don’t drink alcohol on the beach. This is illegal and extremely dangerous. Alcohol dulls your senses which in turn makes it difficult to swim. You don’t realise that you may be hypothermic and that your limbs don’t work as well as they should.
  • By dulling your senses, alcohol may inhibit your ability to sense when your children are in danger
  • Never swim alone.

ER24 wishes everyone a safe and happy summer – we are available 24/7 for any emergency on 084 124.


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Sources: WHO.int and the NSRI’s Communications team (nsri.org.za).