Depending on the area, there may be several dangers involved in swimming and other activities by the beach, such as tides, currents, wildlife and seabed features, some not obvious. Unless at an organized beach, you should seek local advice.
At ocean beaches, there are often rip currents that can take a swimmer out to sea, caused by tides or waves (even in still weather). Areas within a mile of straights have pronounced rip currents.
Drop-offs, due to constantly changing topography.
Fishing nets, submerged trees and other obstacles could get you trapped.
Quicksand and other seabed features could have similar effects.
Jellyfish, sharks and other wildlife
Tsunamis and storms can be particularly dangerous to people at the beach or out at sea.
Remember that if somebody is going to drown because of fatigue, inhaled water or a heart attack, he or she will not have any opportunity to scream, but will just disappear – contrary to what you see on TV. Keep a close look at least on children. Swimming in pairs is a good way to make sure everybody is being watched by somebody at all times.
The warnings on some floating devices, that they may only be used under supervision, are not exaggerated: e.g. swim tubes can turn upside down, creating a very dangerous situation, or take a child to deep water where the child may slip out of it. Proper lifebuoys are differently constructed.
Rip currents are the returning flow from waves breaking off the beach, often at a reef or similar. Due to the underwater topology the return flow is concentrated at a few deeper sections, and a fast current to deep water may form there. Most deaths happen as result of fatigue trying to swim back against the current, which may be impossible. Instead either swim in parallel to the shore, i.e. perpendicular to the current, or just wait it out (calling for help), as it loses its force outside the surf zone. As soon as you get out of the current, swimming back is no more difficult than normally. Try aiming somewhere where you are not caught again or, depending on your skills and on whether you have been noticed, you might want to wait for rescue.
If somebody disappears, watch the point of disappearance closely while calling for help. If others can help, it is better that you direct the help to the right location than that also you lose it by getting distracted.
Unless you have rescue training or are rescuing a small child, always have some device between you and the victim; a person scared of drowning can drag you into the deep. Have a look for possible aids already when arriving: lifebuoys, oars, poles, surfboards etc.
Education and training
SwimSafe is a basic swimming, water safety and rescue program designed specifically for children in low and middle income countries (LMICs) in Asia. It is a public health intervention aimed at preventing drowning. Originally devised to address childhood drowning in Bangladesh, it has been expanded across the region.
SwimSafe employs community-based instructors to teach children how to swim and rescue others. The SwimSafe program consists of 21 lessons of instruction in survival swimming, rescue and resuscitation skills and water safety knowledge. It is taught in a variety of different teaching environments including natural water bodies (ponds, rivers, beaches) above-ground portable pools and in-ground swimming pools.
The initial SwimSafe program was developed solely for use in ponds in rural Bangladesh. SwimSafe version 2 was developed to use other natural water bodies such as rivers and beaches and portable swimming pools.
The most recent (2014) version is SwimSafe version 3. It adds safety and risk management strategies designed to allow high-risk children to be safely included in SwimSafe and adds in-water rescue and resuscitation for older children.
SwimSafe has two levels of certification, Basic and Advanced. The Basic program is for younger children, aged four to six-years-old.
The Advanced program is for children seven years and older. It adds rescue skills aimed at rescuing others and basic life support including CPR. It is important that children at this level are confident in the water and have the mental and physical capacity to perform rescue skills.
The curriculum includes guidelines for swim teaching, logistics, venue management, instructors’ criteria, training details of skill sets and graduation criteria. Of the 21 steps in the manual, water familiarisation features in eight; another eight steps relate to acquisition of different components of swim skills; three steps focus on rescue techniques and another two steps are about acquiring competence as a survival swimmer.
Research has been published in academic journals demonstrating children are successfully using these rescue skills in practice. In 2014, the journal Injury Prevention published a research paper based on interviews with 3890 children who had graduated from the SwimSafe program and concluded the children were frequently using these skills; adults were not involved in any of the reported rescues.
Ponds and portable swimming pools
In many low and middle income countries in Asia there are very few publicly available swimming pools, so alternative venues must be found for water safety lessons.
Two of the alternatives used by SwimSafe are ponds and portable above ground pools.
Ponds are used most commonly in Bangladesh, with bamboo structures defining the teaching area. Being natural water bodies, the ponds have problems with maintenance and water quality and so are mostly used during the rainy season. There is increasingly competition for use of the ponds with commercial fishing operations.
Portable pools (6m by 12.5m) with ladders, sand-filtration systems and chlorination for water sanitation have been used in Thailand, Bangladesh and Vietnam. The portable pools have some practical advantages including controlled water depth and water quality.
SwimSafe is part of an integrated package of drowning interventions in communities.
Another key program is the Anchal (crèche) program in Bangladesh which targets children under five. Each Anchal cares for about 30 children (9am and 1pm, six days per week), by providing a safe, health focused, educational environment for as little as few dollars per day. Through these Anchals over 3,725 children are supervised by trained caregivers.
Research has shown children who participated in the Anchal were 82% less likely to drown than those who did not participate in the program.
Air-sea rescue (ASR or A/SR, also known as sea-air rescue ) is the coordinated search and rescue (SAR) of the survivors of emergency water landings and people who have survived the loss of their seagoing vessel or are otherwise in peril at sea. ASR can involve a wide variety of resources including seaplanes, helicopters, submarines, rescue boats and ships. Specialized equipment and techniques have been developed. Military and civilian units can perform air-sea rescue.
Air-sea rescue operations carried out during war have saved valuable trained and experienced airmen. Moreover, the knowledge that such operations are being carried out greatly enhanced the morale of the combat aircrew faced not only with the expected hostile reaction of the enemy but with the possible danger of aircraft malfunction during long overwater flights.
A rescue lifeboat is a rescue craft which is used to attend a vessel in distress, or its survivors, to rescue crew and passengers. It can be hand pulled, sail powered or powered by an engine. Lifeboats may be rigid, inflatable or rigid-inflatable combination hulled vessels.
There are generally three types of boat, inland (used on lakes and rivers), inshore (used in coastal waters) and offshore (into deeper waters and further out to sea). A rescue lifeboat is a boat designed with specialised features for searching for and rescuing people in peril at sea or in estuaries. Where practicable, lifeboats will usually perform minor salvage and towing operations to assist mariners in distress and prevent navigational hazards.