Near Drowning Leads to Launch of Innovative Learn to Swim campaign: Surf Life Saving NSW has programs for all ages and peoples - they are available to everyone
Two rescues performed by off-duty surf lifesavers, which saved the lives of eight men from Western Sydney, were the inspiration for a new learn to swim program that was officially launched on the Australia Day long weekend in Cronulla.
During the long weekend of October 2019 a group of men from a Western Sydney Mosque were on a father-son camping weekend at Seven Mile Beach near Forster on the NSW North Coast. Several men and their sons ventured into the water for a swim not realising they were heading straight into a rip. The group were quickly swept out by the strong current and began struggling to stay above water.
Hearing cries for help, a group of off-duty surf lifesavers from Palm Beach SLSC and Mona Vale SLSC, who were camping at the same campground as the men, raced down to the beach to rescue them. Two of the men almost drowned, were treated by paramedics and required hospitalisation.
It was this lifesaving rescue, and a similar one the following day involving the same group of men, that inspired Omar Mahmoud and Feroz Sattar to form Swim Brothers, after seeing the success of the similar Swim Sisters program which partnered with the Garie Surf Life Saving Club in Sydney to assist women to achieve their Bronze Medallions and become surf lifesavers.
Swim Brothers is an innovative new learn to swim program that is providing men from diverse communities with culturally-appropriate learn to swim training – both in the pool and in the surf.
Omar and Feroz realised that many people in their community have limited swimming ability in the pool and the surf and decided to do something about it.
“There are challenges with men from our communities being able to access surf and beach safety programs in a culturally sensitive format. Swim Brothers specifically tailors all aspects to address this and make this important skill accessible to all,” Feroz Sattar said.
“It’s interesting because we developed this program - but we are also the target market for it as well. I had started this program with Feroz and immediately learned that I was not as good a swimmer as I thought. And the importance of beach and surf safety was further reinforced,” Omar Mahmoud said.
Swim Brothers program participant Abdullah Syed said that being from an Islamic cultural background, he recognises that there are barriers to learning beach and water safety.
“One of the barriers involves the separation of men and women when their being together is not required in a professional or emergency capacity. This has been the case in Islamic tradition as a way to preserve the modesty of the two sexes,” Abdullah Syed said.
“In turn, this has meant that swim and beach activities, which generally involve the socialising of women and men, have been largely avoided by people of the Islamic faith. This has meant poor swim skills and techniques as well as inadequate knowledge of beach and surf safety.
“Swim Brothers has recognised the cultural sensitivities of people from immigrant and Islamic cultural backgrounds and has facilitated for these communities through their swim programs specifically for men and for women,” he said.
Another Swim Brothers participant, Nasmin Taybah, said that after some challenging experiences in the water, he decided he needed to learn to swim properly.
“Once I was at the beach and I went into the water not realising how strong the waves were. It wasn’t very deep but I had to use all my powers to reach the shore. I almost did not make it,” Nasmin Taybah said.
“I also had a cousin who drowned at the beach. This event left a scar on me ever since,” he said.
According to the NSW 2020 Coastal Safety Report, men are over-represented in coastal drowning deaths, making up 88 percent of people who drowned during the 2019/20 season.
Steven Pearce, CEO of Surf Life Saving NSW, said that Surf Life Saving NSW was fully supporting the Swim Brothers program, to help reduce the number of drowning incidents involving people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.
“What Feroz and Omar have done in establishing the Swim Brothers program is to be commended. When it comes to coastal drownings, people from Western Sydney, particularly people from diverse communities, are identified as an at risk group,” Steven Pearce said.
“The Swim Brothers collaboration gives us a fantastic opportunity to use our expertise to deliver vital beach and surf safety messages alongside the all-important practical swimming and water confidence skills that Swim Brothers works towards.
“For participants and their families, this program also helps create generational change amongst at risk communities and helps raise awareness of the importance of learning to swim and how to stay safe at the beach.
“There is always the opportunity for participants of the program to work towards becoming volunteer surf lifesavers, helping save lives and giving back to communities through our organisation,” he said.
Having had two weeks’ training at Auburn Pool, Swim Brothers training program participants visited North Cronulla Beach for the first time on the Australia Day long weekend to learn about beach and surf safety.
Sutherland Shire Council Lifeguards and Surf Life Saving NSW trainers led the session and provided water safety during training activities.
Surf Life Saving NSW provides Beach Safety Talks, where lifesavers come to you and deliver a fun and interactive presentation tailored to your groups’ needs, Beach Workshops, where for a more hands-on experience, you can join lifesavers on the beach and learn practical water safety skills in the surf and coastal pools, and have partnered with NSW Police, the Royal Life Saving Society - Australia and Northern Beaches Council launched a video on December 11th 2020 which is subtitled in eight different languages and encourages international students to enrol in swimming lessons and familiarise themselves with water safety when swimming in the ocean, rock pools, rivers and pools or rock fishing.
Some of the recommended safety tips include:
- Never swimming alone
- Wearing a life jacket when fishing and boating
- Avoiding alcohol around water and not drinking if you plan to swim
- Learning Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
That's not all that's available though. In January 2020 Surf Life Saving NSW announced that the NSW Government has provided funding for Surf Life Saving to provide real-time safety for visitors to beaches that provides information at their fingertips with the rollout of a trial of free Beach WiFi technology.
The WiFi signal is targeted within an area of around 100 metres, which is designed to attract people to the safer area of the beach, between the red and yellow flags. The WiFi units were positioned on the beach by lifesavers or at some locations on weekdays by lifeguards. Prominent signage told beachgoers that WiFi is available and how to login.
Once connected, the home screen features easy to understand safety tips and links to more information on beach safety such as how to spot a rip current. Users can select this information to be displayed in five languages other than English, including Chinese, Arabic and Hindi.
The technology also allows Patrol Captains or lifeguards to push real-time safety alerts to beachgoers about current hazards, including bluebottles, sharks, rips or beach closures due to dangerous surf conditions. These are pre-translated into other languages.
With too many coastal drownings occurring outside patrol areas, Surf Life Saving NSW hopes the technology will encourage more people to swim between the flags.
The technology was trialled at four locations in NSW: Byron Bay, Bronte, Nth Cronulla and Nth Wollongong.
Surf Life Saving NSW also provides virtual programs for multicultural community groups, University and TAFE students that are an engaging and interactive way for participants to learn about beach and surf safety. Upon registration, group contacts will receive fun and educational downloadable resources and activities along with digital activity links for use by participants to solidify their learning.
For primary schools, high schools and community groups they currently run the Lifesaver for a Day Program. In this interactive session, participants have the opportunity to become involved in discussions as they navigate through a series of activities in a surf lifesavers day. Participants will learn about beach and coastal hazards and the ways they can ensure they stay safe while at the beach.
The sessions are a virtual experience providing participants with opportunities to talk to a surf lifesaver and have lots of fun while asking questions, learning how to identify hazards on our coastlines and how to stay safe at the beach.
For adults there are three options offered:
- Lifesaver for a Day (Adult Program in English) - standard program provided in written and spoken English.
- Lifesaver for a Day (Adult Program for low-level ELP groups) - low-level ELP program with modifications to suit low-level ELP audiences and inclusive of some written translations of key messages for participant languages.
- Lifesaver for a Day (Adult Program in Arabic) - Arabic language program provided completely in spoken and written Arabic.
Please share what's available with anyone you know would benefit from these great Programs and videos.
Let's keep focused on saving lives on all our beaches!
Swim Brothers by Surf Life Saving NSW