The joys and risks of jetty jumping

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:

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

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.

Image shows screen shot from Vic Emergency app with unconfirmed shark sighting

4. How high?

Jump off small heights appropriate for your experience and skill level. The blocks at most swim pools are about 0.5m. The low diving boards at 1m at diving pools are a good place to practise safety jumps. As kids we had supervised practise at higher levels on diving boards, and then in real life situations. The people supervising us as kids were confident in our ability to do a safety jump, because they were clear on both our skill level and ability to behave responsibly. It meant we did our best jump we could, and loved the thrill of it.

5. Who is watching after you?

We all need active adult supervision, supervision, supervision. Engage your child or teenager in talking about the risks. Ask questions to help them assess the situation. Have them help you work out what is an acceptable risk. Be there to make sure they aren't getting carried away with excitement and losing attention. Keep your eyes on them. Stay ready to act if needed.

Those things combined meant we had great fun, never had an injury, and practised safety skills throughout our lives growing up.

And because we became so skilled at assessing risk and knowing our ability, it often ended up being a very quick check before we jumped in. But there's a lot to think about to help your family have a fun, safe day in and around water.

Not all risks can be mitigated. Even jumping as described here, things can still go wrong. You need to be confident in your risk management and be accepting of the element of risk that you feel is right for you and your family on the day.

Ryan Mann, an Adelaide man who has a spinal cord injury from jetty jumping is educating people on the risks. He knew the water depth and felt he had managed the risks, but was unlucky when the pressure of entering the water reportedly caused undiagnosed bone spurs to compress his spine. "Never do you think that something will go wrong, especially when peer pressure's involved and you then don't think about the consequences and you don't look for the possible risks," he said."I actually knew the depth of the water so I knew there wasn't an issue with hitting anything but you can plan, you can look at the risks ... but you can't always be prepared."

This video shows life savers in the USA jetty jumping with their risk management in place. For them, they felt it was an appropriate level of risk.

Video shows life guards jumping of a jetty Source:

Please consider if general advice is right for you.

The information here cannot replace training by a qualified instructor and qualified supervision.

Shayna Gavin is a physiotherapist who is passionate about helping babies, children and young people learn functional skills so they can participate in life at home, school and in their community. Recognising that children do best in their own environments, she visits homes, schools, and leisure activities from football fields to ballet classes. She also has daily aquatic physiotherapy sessions available at two private swimming schools in Moonee Ponds and Greensborough, Melbourne. She combines principles of paediatric physiotherapy, Neuro Developmental Treatment / Bobath, motor learning, Sensory Integration and swimming teaching to address the individual needs of each child and their family. She loves providing professional development to physiotherapists, allied health and education professionals, allied health assistants and swimming teachers.

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