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What should you do if you get into difficulty swimming? Safety expert shares most important tip


Brittas Bay beach, Co Wicklow. Photo: Gerry Mooney.

Brittas Bay beach, Co Wicklow. Photo: Gerry Mooney.

Brittas Bay beach, Co Wicklow. Photo: Gerry Mooney.

As the country gets set for a week of sunshine and soaring temperatures, the RNLI has urged people heading for the beach to practise water safety and stay within their depth.

Water safety delivery support officer Lisa Hollingum said the RNLI’s key message is the “Float to Live” campaign.

She said if anyone gets into difficulty while swimming it is vital to “fight your urge to thrash around” and avoid panicking.

“If you get into difficulty in the water or you find yourself unexpectedly in the water, fight your urge to panic and lie on your back with your arms and legs extended like a starfish and you can just tread water gently and get your breathing under control,” she said.

“And that might take 60 to 90 seconds and then once your breathing is under control then you can make your next step, you can either call for help or you might be able to swim to safety.

“But initially, it’s to not panic because when you panic, you’re going to start a gag reflex and take on water, then you’re going to swallow water and you’re starting the drowning process then.”

Ms Hollingum said anyone can float, and parents can also practise this technique with their children while in shallow areas.

“Get your breathing under control, get your thoughts together and then plan your next step. It’s something really good to practise with your kids, just practise in the shallows or in the pool,” she said.

“Swimming’s definitely a life skill but you don’t have to be a strong swimmer to be able to float – anyone can float, and if you’re having a bit of difficulty just move your arms and legs gently to assist you.”

Ms Hollingum advised people to take the necessary safety steps before they leave the house such as checking the tides, making sure the beach they are visiting is a lifeguarded beach and wearing bright-coloured clothing.

She urged members of the public to dial 999 or 112 right away and ask for the Coast Guard if they see someone struggling in the water.

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People should avoid getting into the water to help a person struggling and instead look around for anything that floats such as a ring buoy that they can throw to the person to help them.

“The more information they can pass over the phone, obviously the Coast Guard will then task the appropriate response unit whether it’s the helicopter or the lifeboat to make sure that the fastest response is being sent,” she said.

“Definitely don’t go in the water after somebody, it’s an instinct factor where people naturally want to go and help but what often happens then is it’s not just one person who needs assistance, it’s two people.

“The best thing a person can do is get on their phone and call the emergency services because then the right help is coming,” she said.

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