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 between 450-600. 86 per cent of these are open water drownings. Of these 63 per cent are inland whilst 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. Alcohol is often a factor.
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 on 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.
In Horsham, the Horsham Life Saving Club has provided water safety courses since 1982 and each year produces some 100 or more successful candidates for life saving tests.
Each year they usually get about a dozen or so new members from the secondary schools and these are most frequently those seeking to take the course in conjunction with a Duke of Edinburgh award.
Last year’s intake was not unusual – 12 girls and only two boys. Yet who are the ones most at risk?
They have just concluded their open water training and examinations at both Southwater Lake and the Coast and 60 separate exams have been successfully undertaken.
The Horsham club starts its new classes at The Pavilions at the tail end of September and has hopes that the number coming forward to join, once school returns and PE Teachers/D of E Reps ‘make their pitch,’ will be sufficient to enable the club to pay its way in pool hire.
Information sheets and application forms are available under the club notice board at The Pavilions or can be obtained on the website www.horshamlifesavingclub.co.uk.
The club takes new members from the age of 13 upwards (due to the pool time being 9-10pm) but ‘Rookie’ Lifesaving Classes for the younger children are run by The Pavilions.
Chairman, Horsham Life Saving Club, RLSS Trainer/Assessor, Lundy Close, littlehampton
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