Camping beside water is popular; the visuals and serenity usually set the scene for a good camp and easy access to a nice swim after the day’s activities is very appealing. While water is nice to look at and camp beside, it does require extra vigilance in staying safe, especially where children are involved.

At the beach there is often a surf rescue patrol nearby and a ‘flagged’ safe swimming area. In remote areas, you will need to assess the water yourself to decide where it’s safe to swim.

Water Dos & Dont’s

  • Children should be closely monitored and encouraged to stay together.
  • Don’t dive or jump into an unknown waterway.
  • Keep well clear of any boating activity.
  • Never swim alone or after drinking alcohol.
  • Never swim where there are crocodile warning signs, or where there are ‘no swimming’ signs.
  • Warm air temperatures do not necessarily mean warm water, and water temperatures will not be constant right through a large body of water; there will always be cold patches, particularly in lakes. On a lake it is always best to stay close to the shore. This location usually gives you the warmest water, but also keeps you close to potential rescuers should you need them.

Inland WaterwaysSwimming Safely (2)

Unless you have very good local knowledge of a waterway, never jump or dive into the water. Water clarity is often reduced by the amount of suspended sediment found throughout many Australian rivers and lakes, and this sediment impedes the sighting and location of submerged logs and tree branches and other obstructions that can seriously injure swimmers.

Try not to swim through patches of weed, nor any body of water that is substantially weedy. Most patches of weeds are usually worse than they look and can create serious problems for swimmers.

If caught in a weedy patch of water, roll on to your back, and use a minor scissor movement with your legs, and a similar movement with your arms. Keep your hands close to your hips and your mouth clear from the water (given the limited buoyancy this swimming stroke gives, do not try to lift your head too far clear of the water at the same time).

Water quality may also be an issue in times of low in-flows and warm weather; avoid any contact with water that has signs of excessive algal blooms.

Artificial structures such as irrigation weirs create a very even flow of water over their lip. This even flow usually creates a back-flow of surface water towards the weir wall (that is, although the water may be flowing downstream in a general sense, there will be a short run of upstream flow close to the weir wall). For a swimmer, this back-flow may present an impassable barrier known as a ‘stopper’, trapping the swimmer until exhaustion takes its toll. Such events can be avoided by staying well clear of any weir or irrigation structure.

If you happen to become trapped in such a situation, either call for help or try diving down into the water, this should put you in contact with the downstream flow, enabling you to pop up clear of the stopper.

If there is someone nearby to help you, they can throw a rope with a knotted end-piece to you and then pull you clear. Preferably use a bright coloured, pre-stretched synthetic rope that is known to be lighter than water.

Take care when walking alongside a river, or clambering along a riverbed, as the banks will always be uneven, and rock and soil outcrops may be moist and/or covered with mosses, or dry and crumbly; neither of these provide much grip.

If you fall over in a fast current and cannot swim, or are in difficulties, then the safest position to adopt is lying on your back with your feet facing down current (usually this is down river). Don’t try to stand up or attempt to cling on to a bough of a tree etc, until you are in slack water.

You can take some control over your drift downstream by getting your body at about 45 degrees to the current (this will not necessarily be running parallel to the river banks) and kicking your way to the bank. This manoeuvre may take you some way downstream.


On The BeachSwimming Safely (1)

At a patrolled beach, swim between the flags, this area will be the safest place to be on that particular day. If you decide not to follow this guidance, or you’re on a beach where there is no lifeguard on duty then be alert to;

  • Currents; both onshore, offshore and longshore may be visible on the surface of the water and sub-surface; they may be narrow, wide and slow or fast; they may drag you away from the shore, towards rocks etc.

In this situation you’re not completely in control, and it is important to either avoid these currents, or have the knowledge to harness their power and live to swim another day.

  • Slope of the beach; in some areas the slope can be dramatic, and even after a few steps into the water you are up to your waist, and possibly out of your depth.
  • Proximity of rocks, reefs, cliffs, coral etc; stay away from these, and be alert to currents pushing you in their direction.
  • Surf; swim within your capabilities, big surf is for experienced swimmers only.
  • Evidence of high tide; look for signs on the rocks, wet sand etc. so you know the high tide mark. This can prevent you getting trapped at the bottom of cliffs etc.

Before you swim on an unknown beach obtain information from;

  • Land management agencies (such as National Parks Service)
  • Local residents
  • Local warning signs
  • Other people on the beach
  • Surf lifesavers
  • Surfers
  • The Internet (tidal information, websites, surf blogs etc)
  • Tourist Information Centres

If you get caught in a powerful current (such as a rip) then you can take some control over your drift by getting positioning your body at about 45degrees to the current and kicking your way to the side of the current. If you can’t determine the angle of the current, swimming parallel to the shore should get you to safety.

These manoeuvres will consume energy and it may be appropriate to let the current take you for a ride, and wait for it to slacken off before you make your move out of the rip. This takes some courage, and ultimately you still need to get back to shore.

If you get into trouble off a patrolled beach, raise the alarm as soon as you can; keeping an arm fully extended in the air is a recognised way of doing this. If you are being rescued by another swimmer and/or a boat let the rescuer take charge; they have the resources to enact the rescue.

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