The NSRI commemorated the world’s first international Drowning Prevention Day on Sunday by placing 200 pink beach buoys on Rocklands Beach in Sea Point.
Four young lives were lost at Rocklands Beach in November 2019 when they were swept off the rocks. Such tragedies, according to Jill Fortuin, NSRI Director of Drowning Prevention, are avoidable.
“We are delighted to join the world today in recognising drowning for the issue that it is. In South Africa, 1 500 people drown every year; 450 of those are children under the age of 14,” said Ms Fortuin.
The number “75” marked out on the beach referred to the 75 lives saved by pink rescue buoys since the project’s inception in 2017.
The United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution on drowning prevention, designating July 25 as World Drowning Prevention Day in order to raise awareness of water safety and to encourage national action.
“We have to teach children water safety and survival swimming, if they fall in accidentally how do they float and get to safety, so we teach them that with basic propulsion to get them to the side,” said NSRI CEO Dr Cleeve Robertson.
“Most people in the country can’t swim which is terrible and it’s a reflection on our education system as we have left out, to my mind, a major life skill and you miss out on the fun in a water-related environment.”
Dr Robertson said it is not only the deaths caused by drowning that are a serious worry, but also the morbidity.
“We don’t have the figures for children that suffer from brain damage due to hypoxia,” he added.
The national lockdown has hampered the NSRI’s ability to instruct children on water safety, but their campaign drew interest from many of the promenade’s runners and walkers.
“The pink buoy is iconic when it comes to our drowning prevention initiative. The 75 people we saved through pink buoys raises awareness nationwide and people know it’s a public safety device. We have trained more than three million kids in water safety and it’s slowed down but it will get going again over the next few years. We have thousands of kilometres to cover as there are so may drowning inland, so it’s a progressive initiative and we have to get the children swimming,” he said.
Dr Robertson awarded brothers William and Richard Boltmann and their friend Francois Koekemoer for risking their lives to save two men who were carried off the Rooi-Els rocks while fishing. A pink buoy located at the pier was used to manage the rescue on April 2.
“We were alerted to the danger by a neighbour and we were getting ready to go into the water to fish so we did not hesitate despite the conditions; the swells were increasing, the wind was strong as well,” William Boltmann recalled the start to their rescue effort.
“We couldn’t throw the buoy to them because of the wind. Eventually I had to jump in the water with the buoy to pull the one guy to safety, the other guy had a tube he was holding onto and my brother was steering the boat against the waves. We had a long rope connected to the buoy and as soon as we got the second guy on board the waves started breaking so we were just in time,” the 36-year old said of the daring rescue.
“We’ve been fishing and swimming all our lives so we are used to the water, but we’ve never had training or been in such a situation, I’m just happy we could save them.”