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Pink is for buoys – the importance of water safety protection

Daily Maverick logo Daily Maverick 2022/09/13 Craig Bishop
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It was touch and go for the highly experienced cold-water swimmer.

“It’s a very good message about things changing, coming out of nowhere. You can get too comfortable. It humbled us! I was floating on my back chatting to someone, and then suddenly it was like, are you kidding me! I am in a completely foreign situation here.”

He says that as well as leaving him humbled, the experience highlighted the urgent need for increased water safety protection. Once he had made it back to shore, Meinert went looking for a rescue buoy to throw to a swimmer still in the rough water, but was unable to find one.

In the most recent incident, Knysna NSRI and SAPS divers recovered the body of a man after he disappeared two weeks ago near Knysna Heads. Last month, two boys aged nine and 11 drowned trying to swim across the Seshego Dam in Polokwane; they had been using foam props as a flotation device. A week after that, a 16-year-old boy drowned after being caught in a rip current off Jabula Beach while on a school trip to Lake St Lucia.

[caption id="attachment_1389116" align="aligncenter" width="720"] A Pink Rescue Buoy on November 17, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. The Pink Rescue Buoy project is part of an extensive National Drowning Prevention Campaign started by the NSRI during 2017. © Provided by Daily Maverick A Pink Rescue Buoy on November 17, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. The Pink Rescue Buoy project is part of an extensive National Drowning Prevention Campaign started by the NSRI during 2017. A Pink Rescue Buoy on November 17, 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. The Pink Rescue Buoy project is part of an extensive National Drowning Prevention Campaign started by the NSRI during 2017. Image: Gallo Images / Misha Jordaan[/caption]

That same weekend, SAPS divers recovered two bodies from Inanda Dam. It is believed they drowned during a prayer ceremony. South Africa is ranked 44th out of 183 countries in terms of drownings, with about 1,450 deaths each year. A third of these are children under 14, and of these, four times as many boys die than girls. Less than 15% of South Africans know how to swim.

But there is a solution, says NSRI Drowning Prevention Manager Andrew Ingram: the rapid, national roll-out of rescue buoys. After his ordeal, Meinert immediately went and sponsored one of these buoys, installing it himself at a Sea Point beach.

The NSRI has since 2017 conducted the Pink Rescue Buoy initiative, and in 2018 it won an International Maritime Rescue Federation Award for Innovation and Technology. Since then about 1,440 buoys have been strategically placed at selected inland rivers, dams and beaches. They have been used in 122 rescues, including two recently in Port Alfred.

These highly visible buoys act as a reminder to take care if there are no lifeguards on duty and can be used as an emergency flotation device until help arrives. The pink buoy initiative came about after a 41-year-old father drowned trying to save his 10-year-old daughter at Glentana Beach near Mossel Bay. The girl had been caught in a strong current while playing in the surf with her sister. She survived but her father died.

[caption id="attachment_1389114" align="aligncenter" width="760"] Pink Buoy on a Cape Town Beach. © Provided by Daily Maverick Pink Buoy on a Cape Town Beach. Pink Buoy on a Cape Town Beach. Image: Craig Bishop[/caption]

Ingram says he probably would not have drowned if there had been a flotation device nearby. Shortly after this, Ingram saw a newspaper photograph of the grieving widow with her two daughters. This image, he says, was “burnt onto his retinas”.

“In 40 years as a rescue volunteer, I have attended numerous incidents of children drowning. There is nothing worse than seeing the body of a child in water. When I saw this grieving mum, knowing that her husband had done what any dad would do, it felt absolutely tragic.”

Ingram says that statistics from South Africa, New Zealand and Hawaii suggest that flotation devices do prevent drownings. Although it is extremely dangerous to go into the water to try to rescue someone, even if you are a very strong swimmer and have had specific rescue training, humans are hardwired to want to help people in distress.

Having said that, if an adult, especially a parent, sees a child in trouble, they are going to go in whether there is a flotation device or not, he adds.

[caption id="attachment_1389118" align="aligncenter" width="720"] © Provided by Daily Maverick With a lifesaving pink buoy. Image: Craig Bishop[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1389112" align="aligncenter" width="766"] With a lifesaving pink buoy. Image: Craig Bishop © Provided by Daily Maverick With a lifesaving pink buoy. Image: Craig Bishop With a lifesaving pink buoy. Image: Craig Bishop[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_1389113" align="aligncenter" width="720"] Pink buoy © Provided by Daily Maverick Pink buoy Image: Craig Bishop[/caption]

The concept seems to have struck a chord among open-water swim groups, with individuals and swim clubs banding together to sponsor buoys. Helen Blaine of Cape Town’s Cold Water Social Club says a near-drowning incident in February prompted the decision to host an NSRI discussion evening with club members. The members then sponsored a pink buoy.

“We were initially driven by the need for ocean education – there are so many bobbing and swimming groups out there, and few people that understand how to go about reading tides and currents. It’s comforting knowing that there are more pink buoys out there, and that there are more people equipped with the knowledge on how to help when someone is in trouble in the sea,” she says.

Early in 2022, Cape Town man Mardus Strydom (38) was caught in a rip current and became hypothermic during an early-morning swim with friends off Clifton Fourth. Two nearby swimmers saw that Strydom was unresponsive, and alerted the lifesavers on the beach. He donated R50,000 to the NSRI and sponsored three buoys, after being rescued by two local lifesavers using a pink buoy. DM/ML

Dial 112 from your cellphone to alert the authorities to a swimmer in trouble. Visit the NSRI’s Pink Buoys initiative for more information.

In case you missed it, also read The swim survival container project – protecting children from drowning

https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-09-04-the-swim-survival-container-project-protecting-children-from-drowning/

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