No one is drown proof

We live in such a changing society where there are ever increasing demands on our time and resources. If a child has the ability to get back to safety if they fall into a still body of water, it helps take some of the worry away when you are near a pool or a body of water. However, there is no substitute for vigilance no matter how well you can swim.

I remember back in the mid 1960’s when, as a family, we would holiday at Burleigh Heads every winter. This particular holiday I met the full time lifeguard at Burleigh, who is now my great friend Len Wood (in 2011 we won the 60-64 years board rescue at the Australian Masters Surf Lifesaving titles held at Kurrawa Beach on the Gold Coast).

We actually met late one afternoon. I was sitting on the rocks at Burleigh with my Dad and we noticed seven children on surf-o-planes (you could hire them on the beach) were being swept out of the flagged area towards the rocks in front of the Burleigh Baths. I was 18 at the time and was very fit and had recently competed in the National Swimming Trials. As there was no beach inspector in sight Dad suggested I had better strip down to my togs and go out and grab the group. Just as I hit the water Len appeared beside me with a rescue board. By this time the group had split into a group of five and a group of two. Len told me to get the two and he would take care of the other five.

After we got back to the beach Len invited me up to the surf club for a warm shower and as we talked about how irresponsible some parents were when it came to supervising their children at the beach, Len mentioned that he was impressed how fast I was through the water and invited me to come with him and his brother Gordon to Pacific Surf Club where they were members. That was the start of a 48 year association with the Surf Lifesaving Movement and a life long friendship.

Where were the parents of the children who got swept out to sea? They were nowhere in sight. When we got the group back to the beach, the children thought their parents were having a few beers at the Burleigh Hotel.

In contrast my mother, the very next day, chastised me for body surfing with Len right out the back where the waves were breaking on the outside bank at Burleigh. Mum knew no one is safe from harm in the water no matter how well they can swim.

The moral of this story is never take your eyes off your child when they are around any body of water no matter how small it may be, and never assume no matter how well your child can swim that they do not need supervision. There are many things that can influence your safety in the water and they include getting smashed into the sand by a wave; someone jumping into a pool on top of you; slipping on the side of the pool and hitting your head as you fall into the pool. These are just a few ways strong swimmers can drown or have a near death by drowning experience.

Please keep this in mind. If your child has some sort of a medical event or accident on land they can still breath until help arrives; if this happens in the water breathing becomes a real problem and the chances are you will drown or almost drown because of the inability to continue breathing until help arrives. Closely supervised children do not drown so please be very alert when you and your family around a body of water.

Chris Shapland.