Out of the Blue: Not waving but drowning
Written by Elaine Hayes, Plymouth Sound National Marine Park Interim Chief Executive
Water and in particular the sea has great healing properties for many of us. We find release from the stresses and strains of the day, a space to think and then relax in.
Families come to the beach to enjoy a day out with the children. But the sea needs to be treated with respect, especially for those less experienced swimmers. There are tides and currents across Plymouth Sound and these can cause the unwary to get into complications. So this blog focuses on how we can all be safer by the sea.
Firstly if at all possible, go to a lifeguarded beach so there is someone there if you get into difficulties. Always swim within marker buoys if these are provided; this is to keep you away from other water users who may pose a threat to you, but bear in mind that the swimming areas are not exclusive to swimmers, anyone can go through it, even boats and jet skis, albeit at a slower speed, so it’s important to be aware.
Unsurprisingly, the most common reason for someone to drown is because they can’t swim. When it comes to swimming, we all have different levels of ability and so it’s important to swim within your capability. If you are unsure, stay within your depth and if you are swimming in the sea, check regularly that you can still stand up as the tide and currents can move you out of your depth without you noticing. If you are a regular sea swimmer, then a float and a high vis swimming hat are really helpful so that people can see you in the water. The float can also help if you get into difficulties.
Ideally, go with a friend; you can help keep each other safe and there is someone to raise the alarm if either of you get into difficulties. Always take your phone with you and make sure it is charged – it is the easiest way to raise the alarm if someone gets into trouble. Many local beaches don’t have phone reception, so it’s worth checking for signal on your way down.
If you see a person in difficulties, then throw them something to help them stay afloat – but never enter the water yourself. Lifebuoys are available at many beaches – these are not toys and should never be used or removed unless in a genuine emergency.
How can you tell if someone is in distress? Firstly have they got their hand in the air? This is an international signal for distress, and should be treated as an emergency. Are there signs they are struggling to stay afloat in the water? If you are not sure and there are other people around ask them to watch as well whilst you call for assistance – dial 999 and ask for the coastguard. Keep watching the casualty as you will be able to provide vital information about their location once the emergency services arrive.
If you can’t swim and intend to visit the beach regularly, sign up at your local pool/sea group for some lessons. They are used to teaching all ages and all abilities and it really is the best way to look after yourself around water – and you will have lots of fun learning.
Going to the beach should be an enjoyable experience for everyone – help yourself and your family to stay safe on and in the water.
Thanks to Tors Froud, our Engagement and Inclusion Manager for her help with this one!