How to stay safe around the water this summer

Travelling Well | Sue Hewitt | Posted on 22 December 2020

Authorities urge people to play it safe around water.

Victorians are urged to keep safe around water this summer after the state recorded its worst drowning toll on record.

The latest statistics show that despite COVID restrictions, 27 people fatally drowned in Victoria between July and 12 December, the highest number ever for this time period and 11 more than the 10-year average.

In response the state government has launched a new “Know Your Limits” water safety campaign aimed at the most at-risk groups: middle aged men who may be complacent around the water and young men from non-English speaking backgrounds who may be less confident swimmers or may not understand safety signs.

The new campaign which will air on TV, radio and social media will urge men aged between 45 and 64 to “know the conditions” and “know your limits”.

Although the number of drowning deaths in the year to 30 June was actually 23 per cent lower than the 10 year average, Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville says a terrible trend had emerged among the two cohorts of males targeted by the campaign. Of the 34 drowning deaths in Victoria during the 2019-2020 year, one quarter were men aged 25 to 44.

In response the government has promised to boost the number of lifesavers at Victorian beaches by about one third and Lifesaving Victoria will also increase its aerial monitoring of beach safety with extra drones and a second helicopter.

No Lifesaving Service sign at front of beach telling swimmers to beware.

Tread safely around water this summer.

It’s not just beachgoers who need to be mindful of water safety, says Parks Victoria regional director Daniel McLaughlin. He says people also need to be cautious around waterways and waterfalls. 

“Waterfalls may look like inviting places to cool off but swimming at these spots can at times be dangerous or prohibited,” he says. “There can be many invisible dangers beneath the water, such as strong currents, debris and other hazards.”

If you do go swimming in an approved area, Daniel advises people to never go in the water alone and to be aware of currents and undertows. On land, he says it is important to stay on paths away from cliff edges and never climb over or behind safety barriers.

Waterfalls may look like inviting places to cool off but swimming at these spots can at times be dangerous or prohibited.

Time in the water in the warmer months also means greater risk of falling ill from contaminated water. 

The Environment Protection Beach Report provides information,  on water quality at 36 bay beaches and four spots on the Yarra River, over the summer months, rating quality as good, fair or poor. As well as checking its online report, the EPA also advises people to check for signs of pollution before entering the water and to avoid swimming near stormwater or river outlets 24 to 48 hours after heavy rain.

When it comes to swimming in public swimming pools, Victoria’s chief health officer Dr Brett Sutton says while chlorine kills most germs, some microbes such as cryptosporidium, which causes diarrhoea and stomach cramps, are highly resistant to chlorine. To minimise the risks, he says people should shower and wash with soap before swimming and wash hands after going to the toilet or changing a nappy, and never swallow pool water.

Life Saving Victoria’s top 10 tips for water safety  

  • Always swim at patrolled beaches between the red and yellow lifesaver flags  
  • Read safety signs  
  • Avoid alcohol around water 
  • Wear a lifejacket when boating and rock fishing 
  • Never go alone, always swim with a friend 
  • Watch children closely around water, keeping children under five years old within arm’s reach and children under 10 within eyesight 
  • Know the dangers and understand the risks – you can check this through the Beachsafe app 
  • Know your own abilities
  • Refresh water safety skills, including personal survival techniques, swimming skills and water safety knowledge  
  • Be aware of the impact of medication and pre-existing health conditions around water