Water safety education is key

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Every August we see reports of people drowning and everyone cannot help but be shocked with the latest drownings just along the coast at Camber Sands.

As is inevitable in these awful tragedies there is an immediate reaction to find someone to blame or to find something that should have been done or something now needs to be done.

In this sad case the call is for more lifeguards to be made available.

The role of beach lifeguards used to be undertaken by volunteers most frequently by members of the Royal Life Saving Society, but the cover they were able to provide, apart from at weekends, was limited. As a result of councils becoming more aware of the need to ensure their beaches were safe places to bathe, in recent years, almost all lifeguarding in the UK has been taken over by the RNLI who with their considerable resources, and being at least partly funded by councils, have been able to provide suitable cover at many popular bathing places.

However, lifeguards cannot be everywhere round our coast and the public as a whole have to take some responsibility for their own safety and to do this effectively everyone has to be ‘water aware’ especially when visiting places on holiday when they will be unfamiliar with local hazards.

Each year most of the drowning casualties tend to be young males. The Camber Sands tragedy is a case in point in both respects.

The Royal Life Saving Society gets poor media coverage when water accidents take place as inevitably now it is the RNLI beach lifeguards who are asked to provide comment.

The fact is that the majority of drowning accidents take place away from the coast and inland hazards have their own peculiar dangers.

At many of these places the RLSS volunteers are still doing their best to provide cover. These are the bare ‘statistics’ but bear in mind each one is a person who has lost their life.

Total UK drownings each year are between 450-600, 86 per cent of these are open water drownings. Of these, 63 per cent are inland while coastal drownings make up 23 per cent. Broken down by gender, 78 per cent are male, 22 per cent are female. Males from the age of 15 years upwards are at higher risk than others.

The RLSS now ‘brands’ itself as ‘The Drowning Prevention Charity’ and continues to work hard at teaching children and adults how to recognise dangers, how to avoid getting into difficulty, what to do if faced with a water-based emergency and how to undertake CPR if needed.

They do this with limited financial resources. When did you last hear of anyone giving a donation to the RLSS as a bequest? The emphasis has to be on stopping water accidents and incidents occurring in the first place by educating the public and in particular youngsters and especially young males.

David Slade

Chairman

RLSS trainer

Horsham Life Saving Club

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