Plans for ACT inland lifesaving pilot program delayed, but still in mind

Michelle Love swims at Casuarina Sands with her children Axel, 6, Jazmin, 12, and Jayden, 16, in January this year. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
Michelle Love swims at Casuarina Sands with her children Axel, 6, Jazmin, 12, and Jayden, 16, in January this year. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

A plan to have lifesavers patrol inland waterways in the ACT will not be in place in time for this summer.

Her comments followed the death of Canberra man Toby Jamieson, who drowned at Casuarina Sands while swimming with his family on January 3.

At the time, Ms Bailey said the popular swimming spot on the Murrumbidgee River would be an obvious starting point for an ACT inland lifesaving service, which would most likely be staffed by volunteers and which could later expand to places like Lake Ginninderra.

When contacted recently, Ms Bailey said Royal Life Saving hadn't been able to do the amount of community consultation on the idea that it would've liked.

"We still haven't lost sight of [the goal of having lifesavers at inland waterways]," she said.

"We just haven't made much progress on it."

Ms Bailey said Royal Life Saving ACT had been working with the owners of the new Canberra Aqua Park, which opens at Black Mountain Peninsula on Lake Burley Griffin next weekend, to devise training modules and guidelines for its lifeguards.

She said these would be useful in planning for an inland lifesaving service in the future.

With summer now less than a month away and temperatures rising, Canberrans are also being urged to stay safe at South Coast beaches, where they are rescued more often than people from other areas.

For every 3119 visits to a patrolled beach in the Eurobodalla Shire last summer, a person had to be rescued by lifeguards from the local council's contractor, Lifeguarding Services Australia.

The rescue rate increased when applied just to ACT residents, who required one rescue per 2829 visits.

Lifeguarding Services Australia chief executive Stan Wall said Canberrans, living about two hours' drive from the coast, were at a disadvantage when they visited the beach because the conditions were very different to what you would find in ACT waterways.

"I think people get complacent and get used to one type of water, thinking that experience will transfer across all types of water," he said.

"I've been a lifeguard across rivers, beaches and swimming pools.

"They're all different. The way we lifeguard is different. The way we approach safety is different."

Mr Wall urged people heading to the coast to opt for patrolled beaches, not to "drink and drown", and to wear life jackets around the water.

He reiterated his 2016 call for swimming lessons to be made mandatory for every child in Australia, saying this would go some way to addressing the higher rescue rates for people from inland areas like Canberra.

"I'm all for it," Mr Wall said. "I think water safety should be taught from school onwards. It's critical in this country."

While mandatory swimming lessons may never become a reality, Mr Wall said Canberrans heading to the coast this summer should keep an eye out for a planned free surf safety awareness course for kids.

"We ran a program a couple of years ago for kids, and we're looking at doing it again this summer," Mr Wall said.

"They'll be able to book in through the [Eurobodalla Shire] Council and do it for free.

"We teach them about surf conditions, swimming in waves, and we actually put them in a rip. They have a lifeguard sitting with them so they can feel what it feels like and learn what to do if they get caught in one."

Mr Wall said Lifeguarding Services Australia hoped to run the course at beaches in the Eurobodalla Shire shortly after the Christmas and new year period, with details still to be confirmed.

This story Inland lifesaving program plan delayed first appeared on The Canberra Times.