Swim safe and sober this holiday weekend

22 January 2021

Across Australia this summer a person has drowned almost every day, with men accounting for three quarters of all drowning fatalities. In Western Australia eight people have drowned so far this summer, double that seen last year.

Royal Life Saving WA’s Lauren Nimmo says the statistics are extremely concerning. “We are only halfway through summer and already, too many people have lost their lives to drowning. Due to COVID restrictions far more people are holidaying at home, and the warm weather is seeing many flock to waterways and pools to stay cool, but may be complacent when it comes safety. Our concern is that without immediate action, these numbers will continue to increase.”

With a holiday weekend on the way Royal Life Saving is especially concerned about the risks associated with young people enjoying holiday gatherings around the water. Over the last ten years WA has recorded 245 drowning incidents involving young people aged 15-24 years, with the rate of drowning in this age group increasing by almost 10% during this time. Ms Nimmo says unfortunately it seems that young people are still not getting the water safety message. “Despite ongoing education over many years, young people continue to participate in unsafe behaviours around the water such as cliff jumping, boating without a lifejacket, overestimating their ability and underestimating the dangers. This places not only themselves, but their mates at higher risk of drowning. We’re particularly concerned about young men who are twice as likely to drown as women.”

Statistics reveal that alcohol contributes to 37% of fatal drowning incidents amongst young people, and Royal Life Saving WA is working to address this issue. The Be A Mermate campaign urges young West Aussies to be a good mate and help their friends make better choices by avoiding alcohol consumption when enjoying water activities. Ms Nimmo says it’s an important focus in the lead up to Australia Day. “We continue to be concerned by the influence alcohol has on drowning amongst young people, particularly young males. We are encouraging all young people to be the sensible voice in their crew and Be a Mermate this summer. Young Aussies are raised with an inherent respect for the water, but years of swimming lessons and their instincts seem to fly out the window when they drink. Alcohol impacts coordination, judgement, and reaction time, which can be a deadly combination when swimming, boating or just enjoying the water.”

Zoe Walton knows all too well the impact of mixing alcohol with swimming. At a New Year’s Eve party in 2019 she chose to take a swim in the pool after having a few drinks. Zoe jumped in head-first without her hands to break the water, causing her neck to enter at a bad angle. The impact shattered Zoe’s c7 vertebrae and left her laying flat on her back in hospital for the next six days waiting for the inflammation to reduce ahead of spinal fusion surgery.

Zoe says it’s taken quite a long time to recover from her injuries, both physically and mentally. “It was probably about a month before I had enough energy to walk around uni. I was in a neck brace for three months so that was quite hard to get used to, and I still have pain here and there more than a year later - it’s an achy pain in the back of my neck and arms. I think mentally it’s probably taken more of a toll now - I really pushed away all of the fear and mental turmoil initially because I just wanted to deal with physically getting better, but I think now it’s starting to come back and I’m having to actually go through the trauma of the night.”

Zoe and her friends admit they downplayed her injuries on the night and were slower to act than they might have been. They know that their response would have been very different had they not been intoxicated and are now encouraging other young people not to underestimate the risks associated with swimming while drinking.

With everyone keener than ever to get together and celebrate this weekend, whether you’re heading to the beach or having a pool party at home, Royal Life Saving is urging young West Australians to Be A Mermate, put their mates first and lure them from danger when around water and following these key messages:

  • Spot before you swim
  • Don’t Know? Don’t Dive
  • Don’t Swig and Swim
  • Float With Friends
  • OMG’s = 000 + CPR

Royal Life Saving’s Youth Water Safety program has been delivered in partnership with the Western Australian Department of Health for over 10 years.