It is always sad to read of deaths by drowning. Such tragedies are common but most heart-rending are the many that die not through drowning but through lack of knowledge. Those more aware of how to respond in a difficult situation would survive. Even poor swimmers can stay afloat for days so why do some perish within a few minutes of getting into difficulty?
Many panic on realising they have overstretched themselves or are too far from the shoreline. They quickly become exhausted and nature takes its course.
Water education, including swimming lessons, should be as natural a part of a youngster’s upbringing as is road safety. The first priority is to know one’s limitations. If you want to test yourself swim along the shoreline, not away from it. Be aware that undercurrents are fast moving underwater eddies. It is possible to escape them if you hold your nerve. An undercurrent will tug at your legs; by using the backstroke you will bring them to the surface.
It is difficult to see a person’s head from a boat’s deck. Take with you a brightly coloured flotation aid or hat. Even if you are unconscious you will be spotted more easily.
When in trouble our instinct is to swim to the nearest shoreline or riverbank. It is needlessly exhausting if to reach it you need to swim against a current or tide. The currents will usually deposit you on or near the banks further downstream. All you need do is make sure you stay on the surface and go with the flow. Flipping over on to your back is almost as good as wearing water wings.
Swimmers, especially those in trouble, needlessly struggle to keep their heads clear of the water. It doesn’t matter if your face is in the water 55 seconds in every minute: you need only 5 seconds to replenish your essential air supply. Conserve your strength and consider your options. Constantly practice drills of how to react to difficult situations.
Remember fresh water is less buoyant than salt water; more effort is needed to stay afloat in rivers and lakes. Cold is a killer: Lakes can look inviting, especially on a hot day. A little way out or just beneath the surface it is as bitterly cold as it is in mid-winter when you wouldn’t dream of going for a swim. Heat loss impairs muscle movement and induces heart attacks, which is why people drown in placid lakes.
Familiarise yourself with the location before you do anything foolish. If your legs become entangled in underwater weeds you can usually free yourself by propelling yourself downstream using your arms.
You wouldn’t run around a road wearing a blindfold; why leap or dive into water when you cannot see what lies below the surface? Every year people die or are crippled by plunging into underwater hazards. Check the water’s banks and walls and avoid places where you cannot clamber out? Never swim without an exit strategy. If you are a parent teach your children by example so that water safety becomes as natural to them as does road safety.