Lake District Swim Safe sessions make a splash

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4 August 2017 6:20PM

CHILDREN love swimming outdoors – but swimming in the sea, rivers and lakes is very different to a pool, where most of their lessons take place.

Over the past four weeks, Swim Safe sessions have been taking place in Windermere to teach children what to do if they encountered any trouble. Swim England, the national governing body for swimming, and the RNLI, the charity that saves lives at sea, teamed up to launch the initiative.

Swim Safe organiser, Caroline Smith, said: "We've been running them now for about four years. They are very popular each year, with a huge mix of children."

Swim Safe offers free outdoor swimming safety sessions for children aged seven to 14. The main aims are to teach children to stay safe and for them to learn what to do if they encounter any danger.

We just want children to think twice about what they are doing in open water

Mrs Smith said: "It runs in the summer holidays, and this year we have had over 1,400 children enter here. It is important for children to learn the safety of open water swimming."

Children get to enjoy the fun, structured swimming sessions for free, while learning all about how to stay safe.

Mrs Smith said: "They get on their wet suits when they arrive, then we give them a safety talk before they enter the water. The children then enter the water with a level two qualified swim teacher, who shows them what to do in all situations.

"It is most important they know what to do if they fell into the water, which is to relax."

Each session was run for 60 minutes and supported by a team of trained volunteers.

Beach safety advice was provided to the group by qualified lifeguards on the land, before the groups entered the water for up to 30 minutes.

All children received the right kit for swimming outdoors, which included swim hats, wetsuits and swimming aids.

Mrs Smith said: "At the end of the sessions, the children got to keep the hat they swam in, as well as a T-shirt, keyring and badge.

"So far, this year has been brilliant. We get such a variety of people who attend, it is not just the local people but people travelling from all over to take part."

Swim Safe started in 2013 with just one site at Bude, in Cornwall. More than 18,000 sessions have taken place across the country since then.

Each year the programme continues to grow and this year took place at 20 sites across the UK and Ireland which included beaches, lakes, reservoirs, and other inland locations.

Mrs Smith said: "We get children whose parents are open water swimmers and want their children to learn the basics before going out with them.

"Quite often we get children whose parents can't swim themselves. We also do sessions for special needs schools.

"It is important for children to know the difference between swimming in a pool and swimming outdoors. The temperature is the biggest thing, it is always much colder swimming outdoors."

The children get taught five key safety tips, which were reinforced throughout all the sessions that took place in Windermere over the last month.

Mrs Smith said: "The most important things are knowing who can help and knowing how to get out of any situation they may find themselves in.

"They need to respect the water and know all the emergency numbers."

Unsurprisingly, running into the sea or diving straight in is not the safest way of entering the water and this is one of the main things that children were taught throughout the sessions. Those attending sessions in Windermere were shown how to wade into the water, as this is much safer.

Teachers told the group to always check the floor and under the water for submerged objects, to slide their feet carefully along the floor, turn their back to any waves and to keep their feet on the floor as waves pass, no matter how tempting it is to jump.

The groups were also told what to do if a child was to fall into the water when unaccompanied by an adult or friend.

The help position is one of the key swimming survival skills, and it was one that was reiterated throughout all sessions. It is an important thing to remember if swimming in open water.

This position is said to help preserve body heat while staying safe and buoyant.

To adopt the position, swimmers must first keep their legs slightly bent and together or crossed. They should cross their arms and cuddle a flotation aid or, if wearing a lifejacket, place their hands on their shoulders.

The position then involves squeezing the elbows into the body and keeping the head out of the water, turning away from any waves if possible. The swimmer should then look in the direction of any rescuers.

If there are multiple people in the water, huddling together is also a great way of preserving each other’s body heat. Being in a group will also increase the chance of being identified by any rescuers.

Mrs Smith said: "We would like to thank South Lakeland District Council for the huge amount of financial support they have given us to be able to run these free sessions. By doing them we are allowing kids to be about of their comfort zone in risk assessed environments.

"We just want children to think twice about what they are doing in open water."

Some Swim Safe tips about what to do if you encounter trouble in a group:

1. Keep your legs slightly bent and together or crossed.

2. Hold onto a neighbour's float and form a circle with your group.

3. Press the sides of your bodies together and keep your head out of the water.

4. One person should take control and keep everyone else talking.

Open water swimming safety:

OPEN water such as the sea and lakes can be both an enjoyable and fun experience.

However, knowledge and understanding of the unforeseen and hidden hazards is a must.

All of the following can be hazards when swimming in open water:

● Water beds

● Deep/cold water

● Offshore winds

● Manmade structures

● Tides

● Waves

● Rip currents

● Sea life

Conditions when swimming in open water constantly change. Here are some tips to ensure you stay safe:

1. Always look for warning and guidance signs.

2. Check the tidal activity when at the coast.

3. Take guidance from the lifeguards about the safest areas to enter the water, indicated by coloured flags.

4. Swim parallel with the shore (not away from it) in standing depth water.

5. Get out of the water as soon as you start to feel cold.

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