Holiday-makers urged to be cautious in and around water

By Shepparton News

The Murray River is Australia’s worst drowning black spot among rivers, creeks and streams.

Research by Royal Life Saving Australia, between July 1, 2003, and June 30 this year, revealed 1087 people have drowned, while an estimated 522 people were hospitalised for a non-fatal drowning incident, many left with a permanent disability.

The research highlighted men were most at risk, accounting for 80 per cent of all drowning deaths.

Alarmingly, of the adult men who drowned in rivers, 56 per cent had a contributory level of alcohol and/or drugs in their system.

Now approaching peak holiday season when hundreds will venture to the area to enjoy our section of the river, Cobram SES unit controller John Stava said the report outlined the importance of being safe and responsible in and around our waterways.

‘‘When we have our incidents, usually they tend to be in the peak holiday period,’’ he said.

‘‘The mix of holiday-making, alcohol, boats and un-familiarity with the environment of the river can be a really bad combination.’’

He said having river awareness should be paramount to visitors before entering the water.

‘‘We have retrieved people who are simply unaware of the dangers of the river.

‘‘They don’t realise that the bottom of the river is quite inconsistent. It can have clay banks, it can have sand, it can grade off gradually or it might have steep drop-offs.

‘‘If you don’t understand currents for example, there can be currents in places where you wouldn’t necessarily expect. The difference between calm and swift currents can only be a matter of 2m or 3m apart.’’

Mr Stava said because the SES was deployed from land, it was rare members would perform water rescue, so it was crucial people supervised friends or family, keeping a close eye on them at all times.

He said even the general public should be alert at all times in case disaster struck.

‘‘If somebody is in trouble swimming, their best rescuers will be the people there at the scene.

‘‘We have had instances in the past where the core problem was the fact the child was unsupervised and the parent was in no position to rescue them, let alone even notice they were missing.

‘‘People need to realise that most of what we do is actually assisting police in locating and retrieving bodies that have already drowned — we aren’t out there saving lives.’’

Mr Stava said the statistics were not surprising, and he had encountered ‘‘dozens’’ of drownings in this part of the river.

‘‘I think we had nine drownings one year quite a few years ago,’’ he said.

Mr Stava said people who intended to swim in the river this summer should follow a series of simple rules: don’t swim alone, don’t swim after dark, don’t tread water vertically in the river and never swim downstream (with the current) underwater because you could be travelling at 3km to 5km/h which could cause you to be knocked out or become disorientated if you hit a log.