Let me ask you a question.

You’re swimming in the river with friends. You know the area well; it’s a regular meeting place for you. This week, some way off a group of youngsters is larking about jumping and diving off the jetty. They are shouting and laughing, generally having a great time. Suddenly you notice one of their group is lying face down in the water motionless. His friends seem quite oblivious to this or at least completely unconcerned. He is too far away to see exactly what is going on. Is he just taking a breather and having a few minutes quiet, observing life below the surface? Or is there a real problem emerging and he is in fact in serious trouble?

The question, then, is a simple one. What should you do?

Photo by Tommaso Fornoni on Unsplash

Should you swim to him as fast as possible and check him out? Turn him over face up at the very least? If you do though you’re going to look pretty silly if he is, in fact, perfectly fine. You risk being extremely embarrassed. Worse, he might be of an age where it is highly inappropriate to go manhandling a young boy. There might be all sorts of nasty repercussions.

But what if your worst fears about him are correct? How would you feel if you witnessed a tragedy unfold before your eyes and you had done nothing to try and prevent it?

What should you do?

I’m afraid I don’t know the answer for sure. There are too many variables to take into account. But I suggest that, were you in that situation, you should know the answer. The group was being very boisterous so you definitely noticed them. You could have easily anticipated that, should one of the party get into difficulties, their friends may not immediately notice. And if you anticipated that, it’s not unreasonable to have at least some sort of loose plan

I think we can agree that your response should be primarily driven by the need for the safety of the swimmer, not by the level of embarrassment you might suffer if you get it wrong (although it’s worth recognising that may well be a mental barrier you have to set aside and set it aside immediately. Humans love being in water by and large but we’re also not supposed to be there really. It’s dangerous stuff and serious situations can unfold extremely rapidly.

So you’ve decided to act. But what to do? Can you attract the attention of the boys’ friends? And if you can, can you make yourself understood? Are you the right person to swim over and effect a rescue or is there someone nearer, maybe one of your own party?. If you were to get to him, do you have the skills to save him anyway? Now is probably not the time to regret never having taken that lifesaving course.

Photo by Jametlene Renko on Unsplash

Perhaps you are best to get out of the water and run along the bank; maybe that’s quicker. You might also get to a lifesaving ring that way. But how do you get out of the water? Or should you wait a second or two and assess the situation further – make sure you have interpreted what’s going on correctly. Is there a second person in trouble whom you have yet to notice? Are the rest of the youngsters safe or are they in danger of succumbing to the same fate as their friend?

Lots to think about. Lots of decisions to make and very little time available in which to make them. Which is why whenever we enter the water, particularly open water we should do so with at least some rudimentary assessment of the likely dangers. We should remember that our own safety is paramount but also that we have a responsibility to those around us; both those that we know and those that we don’t. It’s worth remembering too that circumstances may change whilst we are in the water and that we must remain vigilant throughout. To anticipate every eventuality and formulate a response is sadly impractical. But to be constantly on the lookout for dangerous situations and to know approximately how you might react to them could be the difference between life and death.


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