Ocean waves Image Credit: pexels

On Friday, an Indian man died shortly after saving his two children who were pulled into the water by the strong currents. Earlier this month a 14-year-old Arab boy drowned in Al Dahan area in Ras Al Khaimah on a Friday afternoon. Over the summer an Emirati man drowned while his brother was hauled to safety after they ventured out for a swim in Fujairah. During Ramadan two Emirati children died after falling into a swimming pool while their families were having iftar. Dubai Ports Police told Gulf News that in 2016, 29 people drowned at Dubai beaches, while there were 24 swimming fatalities in 2015. While Abu Dhabi Police have confirmed that seven people have already lost their lives from drowning so far in 2018 in Abu Dhabi.

I always thought I was above drowning. I started taking swimming lessons since I was three years old. Competed semi-professionally for 10 years, and trained every day for two hours. Swimming was in my blood. I never feared the sea. I was a swimmer after all! That was until I almost drowned 6 months ago.

One day I decided to try my hand at surfing at a beach in Hikkaduwa, Sri Lanka. That day the waves were high and the water was choppy. A perfect day to surf, until it wasn’t. I paddled with my board out onto the water. The trick is to get behind where the wave breaks and then face the shore and ride the top of the wave.

As I paddled out, a massive wave was coming my way and it was already breaking. I needed to dive underneath it. By the time I made my decision, I realised it was too late. The wave had smacked my board and I was pushed backwards head first into the bottom of the sand. I did not have a chance to breathe and water was already filling my throat. The force of the wave thrashed me around under water.

I had no awareness of where was up, down, right or left. All I could remember was ‘stay calm and let the water take you upwards eventually.’ When I finally reached the surface after what felt like forever I took a breath. But, my throat which was filled with water, couldn’t let any air in. That’s when another wave hit. I was back in the water, willing myself to calm down and not to try swimming against the current of the water. I needed to just to let myself be. Then I finally felt land. It took 15 seconds for my throat to clear up and for air to finally enter my lungs.

That was when I learned. You must always have a fearful respect of the sea. No matter what your skills are, no matter how great of a swimmer you are, we are no match against the elements of nature.

The common occurence of drowning in the UAE and the rest of the world is due to many reasons, including lack of swimming ability, lack of barriers to prevent unsupervised water access, lack of close supervision while swimming, location, and failure to wear life jackets, and seizure disorders as well as changes in tides and currents.

What happens to your body when you drown?

Gifs for illustrative purposes only Image Credit: Giphy

Drowning is torment. It is the impairment of breathing (respiration) due to immersion or submersion in liquid. It is the inhalation of water. What usually happens is that people can only hold their breath for so long, eventually their instinct forces them to open their mouth and inhale. At this point water enters the throat, the trachea causes a muscular spasm that seals the airway and prevents further passage of water into the lungs. This is a mechanism for the body to protect itself from water entering. If the process of drowning is not interrupted, then loss of consciousness due to hypoxia (deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues) occurs, which is then followed rapidly by cardiac arrest.

What is the difference between swimming in a pool and the sea?

People can drown in any body of water, whether it’s the pool, the sea or even a deep puddle. But sometimes you have a higher chance of survival. Here is the difference between swimming in a sea and a pool.

Sea

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Swimming in salt water improves health including the prevention of asthma, arthritis, muscles, reduce stress and help induce sleep, however there are strong tides and rip currents. Tides Additionally, in the sea, water temperature fluctuates depending on the climate, so if you hit a cold spot, you may sometimes get cramps or cold water shock and react by becoming rigid. One important aspect about the sea, is that the seabed floor is unstable, rocky, muddy or sometimes filled with algae that can make the floor very slippery. Gradients in the beach does not declined consistently especially on manmade islands. Because the seas and oceans are open water, debris might float from anywhere and could harm you.

Pool

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The benefits of the pool is that the water is usually clear and has unobstructed views to the bottom. There is substantially less surface area than in a sea. The depth levels are consistent as mentioned on depth signs (unless it’s a wave pool or water park). Pools have no underwater current and the water temperatures are controlled. Pools could however be crowded depending on size and number of bathers, chlorine can be present and can cause sensitivity. Most importantly, pools could be expensive to access and are not available all the time. Which is why many residents head to the beach for a free day out.

What precautions should you take to avoid drowning?

Gulf News spoke to Danushka Weerasinghe, a trainer and assessor Lifeguard for the Royal Lifesaving Society in UK as well as the fitness and recreation manager at Fairmont the Palm and he said “Prior to swimming in the sea, make sure to evaluate the area and location. It is important to ensure you inform someone where you are going, or which area you are going to be swimming.”

Check the tides:

What are tides and currents?

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Tides: If you live near the coast or have ever visited the beach, you are probably aware of tides. Tides are essentially big waves that move through the ocean in response to the forces exerted by the Moon and the Sun? Tides start in the ocean and move towards the coast, where they appear as the regular rise and fall of the sea surface. But the water levels do changes over the day depending on where you are and what day it is. These waves can be high enough to be cause a risk factor and potential drowning.

Currents: Currents involve the movement of water back and forth. Currents are driven by several factors. Tides are one of these. Wind, the shape of the land, and even water temperature are other facts that drive currents. Currents can be strong enough to pull you deeper into the sea, which causes panic and potential drowning.

Make sure you:

Always go to a designated beach where lifeguards are present. Most people who drown in the UAE end up on beaches that are not controlled by lifeguards and ropes.

Always wear the correct swimwear. If you swim in long clothes, you will be weighed down

Never swim alone in an area you are not familiar with

If you consume alcohol then don’t swim within four hours of consumption

Avoid swimming on a full stomach

Always be aware of the depth of the area you are in

Weather conditions: make sure you check the weather forecast and any warning in relation to tides

Swim within distance of lifeguards

The main factors that affect drowning risk are lack of swimming ability, lack of barriers to prevent unsupervised water access, lack of close supervision while swimming, location, and failure to wear life jackets, alcohol use, and seizure disorders as well as changes in tides and currents.

What should you do if you start to drown?

The best thing to do is to try and float Image Credit: Giphy

Gulf News spoke to Hugo Fernandes, a fitness instructor, swim instructor and former lifeguard, who gave us the below tips:

1. Do not panic (easier said than done) but try

2. If you are able to bring yourself to the surface then do so and shout for help

3. Go against your instincts and lie on your back and inhale a big amount of air. A human body is naturally buoyant if the lungs are filled with air. You will float if you let yourself. In this position, your full body will still be submerged in water by a few centimetres. The chest is close to the surface. And only the head is above the surface. And this is enough for our survival.

4. If you are caught in a big wave, try and relax your body… let the wave take you to the shore. Don’t waste your air and energy by thrashing around. Just relax, despite the desire to fight.

5. If you are too far out, try and move your body closer to a buoy or the rope. The best way to do this is on your back.

6. Again, do not panic, eventually the water will bring you to the surface if you don’t fight against it and just let it.

If you see someone in danger or shouting for help never enter the water alone, where possible throw a lifesaving aid such as a ring buoy and call the emergency services for help.

In general, drowning can affect anyone, even those who swim and especially those who don’t, so take time and to learn how to swim. Make this small investment as not only will it potentially save your life or that of someone else, swimming is a wonderful way of keeping fit, slim and healthy. It is important for parents to make sure children can swim and float. Swimming is more than a recreational activity; it is a potentially life-saving skill. Teaching swimming from a young age installs confidence in the child’s ability in water and makes a lifelong hobby.

There are lots of public beaches in UAE where lifeguards are patrolling the beach. Get advice from Lifeguards on the condition of the swimming area if you are doubt. Make sure you check the colour of beach sign flags.