Water safety in WA: Two touching stories

Drowning fatalities increased by 17% in WA in the last year

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Drowning fatalities increased by 17% in WA in the last year

Vesh Arumugam

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This is my story: It was a beautiful sunny day. The sun was scorching but the sound of waves was soothing. I was just five-years-old. My sister, who was 12, jumped into the pool. Her weight swooshed the water, forming baby waves in the pool. My dad urged me to jump in. My mum was wary, but she was too late to stop it happening.  All I remember was pit darkness and water gushing into my nostrils, competing to pass through to my lungs. I almost drowned. That day left a huge scar on my life that I can still feel. I’m living with unquenchable hydrophobia.

Drowning cases in WA have increased in the last decade by 17%. According to Royal Lifesaving Society of WA’s annual official report, 42 people drowned in Western Australia in 2016-17.

The report shows that more people have drowned in inland waterways such as lakes, rivers, creeks, and streams than beaches and pools. According to Sport and Recreation Minister Mick Murray: “It is a sad and sobering statistic, and shows that we all have more work to do in improving safety around the water.”

The statistic shows that fatalities involving boats and watercrafts increased, while people swimming in inland waterways remain vulnerable. According to the report, 74% of the people who drowned were men aged between 25 and 34.

“That’s because they don’t necessarily recognise their weaknesses,” said Sorrento Surf Life Saving Club member, Julie Smallwood.

The State Government has been a long-time supporter of the Royal Lifesaving Society of WA’s water safety programs, with funding of more than $700,000 for 2015-19.

Keep Watch Coordinator from Royal Life Saving Society, WA, Rachel Murray told ECU Daily that the Society has created many programs to reduce drowning death incidents in the future.

“The Royal Life Saving Society WA is increasing its efforts to prevent drowning in inland waterways through the Respect the River education program and is also working with a number of government and community organizations to improve lifejacket ownership and use,” said Ms Murray.

Keep Watch is one of the programs organized by RLSSWA to educate the public about water safety. Keep Watch has been in operation for more than twenty years now. According to the data, drowning fatalities of children between 0-4 years old have reduced by 36% in Australia. However, 29 children drowned in the last year, despite the many water safety programs offered by RLSS and other organizations.

Ameetha Mercy Alagan recalls a tragic loss of her friend, Cathy, at Cottesloe beach two years ago. “It was a nice day. We were having fun. But, my friend swam outside the flagged area. She was pulled in by the current underneath and died.”

“It was surely devastating to witness your friend dying in front of your naked eyes,” said Ms Alagan.

Smallwood said that swimming out of the patrol’s sight can be dangerous. She warned that “supervision is the biggest problem” and encouraged people unsure of the water to not go in or to always swim within the flagged area.

“The patrols still monitor people outside the [flagged] area, so if you are not a good swimmer, inform them so they can monitor you.”

National Aquatic Industry Safety Committee recommends that one of the ways to eradicate drowning is to encourage people to learn swimming.

However, Alagan’s friend who drowned was a professional diver and swimmer. When asked about that, Smallwood said that “ocean is an ever-changing place”. This means that beachgoers should always be aware of the weather and water conditions.

Smallwood and Murray provided these tips for ECU Daily readers:

  1. Supervise children around water
  2. Young and old people learn how to swim and survive
  3. Use lifejackets when boating or rock fishing
  4. Reduce alcohol consumption around water
  5. Check weather and water conditions before beach days
  6. Never swim or boat alone
  7. Inform patrols if you are not a good swimmer
  8. Inform your family about your whereabouts- give them an approximate time you return home
  9. Don’t drive through flooded waterways
  10. Don’t panic in case of emergencies. Think your way out. Fear increases your body weight which can anchor you to the ocean bed
  11. Be educated on survival methods in case of an emergency in the water
  12. Wear appropriate clothing as weight can drag you down
  13. Drink lots of water
  14. Look after each other
  15. Keep your eyes off digital gadgets at the beach
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