Jumping off jetties, boats, rocks and sea walls was always one of my favourite things to do in the ocean and at rock pools.
But it's certainly a risky thing to do.
Photo shows people mid fall jumping off jetty into the ocean Source: ABC news
Learning to do a safety jump is an important skill in case of an emergency, such as jumping off a sinking boat to safety. We can practise safety skills in every day life, like jumping into water during swimming sessions and leisure time. But, the dangers are real. From spinal cord injuries to fractured bones, jumping into water definitely carries risks.
There have been many accidents this summer. Surf Life Saving South Australia reported attending an average of one injury each week this summer, from jumping off jetties, including several serious spinal injuries. They have pleaded for people to "know it is a high-risk activity and to be mindful of their own abilities and skills." Under many council by-laws, jetty jumping is illegal and carries fines.
The risk of injury is the main reason why I don't give kids the chance to do 'silly jumps' or any back flips at a swimming pool. Unless you are in structured diving training, they are just not appropriate and carry high risks. I want kids to enjoy their aquatic physiotherapy and swimming lessons, and their play in water during leisure time. I believe that can be done safely!
This is the kind of thing that makes my hair stand on end! He does it competently. But what about other kids watching and wanting to give it a go? Or other kids being egged on to be 'brave' and try? What about those who havn't learned those skills competently?
Video shows boy standing on jetty then doing backflip into ocean Source: http://youtu.be/B_E1J0nLC-8
I do think the key things for considering safer jumping into water are :
1. Are there any official warnings?
If there is official advice or signs advising not to jump, don't jump! There's usually a decent reason for it!
Image shows person preparing to jump in front of no jumping sign Source: Perth Sunday times
2. Do you have the skills?
Firstly, can you safely climb to the jumping position? What if it is over a rail? (Is the rail there for a reason to prevent jumping in?) What if you are climbing up rocks? Are any loose? What risks are there in climbing while in bathers and bare feet? Is it windy or slippery? Does that make climbing dangerous? Or does that make it difficult to do a safe jump?
Once you think your child can get to the starting position easily enough, you need to be totally confident in your child's ability to do a safety jump. You need to be able to do big jump away from where you are standing so you clear it (rather than crashing into the rock/ boat / jetty), and then a pin drop, feet first entry into deep water where you will not hit the bottom or any obstacles. Arms can be held together over your head, by your sides or crossed over your chest. And certainly never a running start. As with most skills, people who are highly skilled make it look easy. These life guards hold their hands above their heads to make sure they are not hit by the floatation devices and flippers they are carrying to help them swim back to shore.
a) big jump away from the edge
b) pin drop with hands overhead
Images show life guard taking big jump away from jetty then falling in pin drop with feet together and arms together overhead, holding floatation device and flippers, with life guards watching Source: screenshots from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wo7V6bgs-go&feature=youtu.be
3. Is the water safe?
Always check the water first. If a sand bar has moved, you could be hitting the ground. If there are rocks underneath, you could land on them. Always check for people, especially scuba divers having a good look underneath the pier. Are there boats or jet skis in the area? How are they behaving? Are you planning on jumping where the boats moor at the jetty? I would never swim near a jet ski!
It's not like in the movies where you excitedly arrive at the beach, run down the pier and jump in!
You need to stop and look.
Image shows woman with dry hair and bathers jumping into the ocean off rocks. Source: Pixabay
If the water is crystal clear, there's good light, you understand how viewing depth and obstacles through water distorts how they appear, then sometimes just looking is enough.
What do you think of this beach? Would you jump in off these rocks?
Image shows beach with rocky cliffs over sandy bottom ocean with submerged rocks Source: Pixabay
If the water is not crystal clear, it's slightly murky (or very murky, like in a dam or river), or in low light (like in a rockpool in a rainforests), if it's a sandy bottom that can change depth, or if you have a hint of doubt: do a safe entry to slide in, swim around, feel for obstacles and the bottom, and be really sure to check. And if you're still not 100% sure, then everyone does safe entries. It's that simple. Missing out on a bit of fun is not worth the risk.
Image shows Waterfall and rock pool in rainforest setting with surbmerged rocks and low light Source Pixabay
Aside from obstacles, check the water. Is it flowing? What direction? How cold is it? Are there waves? How skilled is your swimmer? How fit, and healthy, are they TODAY? Can they tread water? How will they get out of the water once they jump in? If you had to do a rescue, how would you do it? (Are you trained in water rescues that have minimal risk to yourself and the person in trouble in the water? Do you have the swimming ability to do that TODAY?)
The Vic Emergency app also reports on risks like natural weather events as well as shark sightings. Having spent a bit of time down the coast this summer with more frequent than usual shark sightings, I've been checking it before going to the beach.