Sadly last year we saw too many drowning fatalities in the Thames. At times it appeared to be weekly drownings, which greatly saddened myself and many of the Surrey Outdoor Swimmers.
We spend a lot of time year round in the Thames. We set up a specific safety group on Facebook “Open Water Share The Knowledge” on what could be done. We discussed how we could share our knowledge of the river and perhaps make it safer for everyone to enjoy. I personally met with my local councillor Maureen Attewell to discuss steps to decrease fatalities. Subsequently I organized an introduction to swimming in the Thames and shared which precautions to take. I have recently learned from Maureen Attewell, that another event we discussed will take place alongside the Surrey fire department which will now happen around April. The emphasis is to share the knowledge and it's wonderful that so many within the local community are taking part.
Being an outdoor swimmer year round, most of us still swim in the Thames over winter, even when the current increases. We do assess the flow before entering and will abort if it seems too dangerous! During one swim we discussed what we could do if the current took a fellow swimmer with it and outside of control. We ended up talking about "throw ropes" of which many of us have now bought to bring along to our swims. You can buy yours from RLSS and support a good cause in doing so.
The idea with the throw ropes is safety for ourselves and fellow swimmers but certainly also that of others that might come into difficulty. We spend a lot of time by the river at all times of day throughout the year. Introducing these ropes requires some introductory training of which the manager of Thames Young Mariners so kindly agreed to free of charge.
A delegation of excited swimmers hence went there on the 28th of January to learn to use them most effectively. In cases of drowning, seconds count and if it ends in a situation where we are there first. It's best to get the victim out of the water asap and these throw ropes can help.
It was a beautiful day as we all arrived at Thames Young Mariners and Simon Kibble was there to welcome us on site. He was quick to brief us on what he had planned. One might think that using a throw rope would be somewhat self explanatory. However a throw rope is somewhat useless if you can’t get it to the person who needs rescuing. The person throwing it might be in a state of panic too as seconds really do count. It’s therefore not unlikely that you miss the first throw so what should you do next. It requires practice to feel confident and do a successful rescue. It also requires a lot of communication with the victim to try to calm them down and explain what you will be doing to get them out. In a panic you are most likely not thinking rationally and receiving guidance can increase chances of a successful rescue which is our aim.
We started by taking aim at different goals on land, a football net and a drain pipe were used. Multiple throws later and with further superb guidance from Simon, we were ready to take the learned into practice. We got changed into swim wear to play “victim” and rescuer on land.
The first group entered the water, had a swim and as they approached the landing area the acting kicked in for them to become a “victim” for practice. The first couple of ropes were thrown, a few missed attempts and a few successful ones in between. A few attempts were so bad that laughter broke out. We will try again. Once all of us had had a goal we had the obligatory “warm tea” to discuss what had been learned. We all agreed that we felt more confident using a throw rope but that more training was certainly needed. We will be sharing with other swimmers the techniques learned and continue our own practice along the way. We want to be as prepared as we can should we ever stand in an actual and frightening situation. Hopefully this will never occur!
Bottomline training/practice on throw ropes are essential. Please find a really useful guide on the use of them from the British Canoeing Awarding Body here. We will continue our own training and am excited to be planning a first aid training course with Simon Kibble next. Also thrilled for the event coming up in April. Details to be shared once finalized.
Stay safe out there and enjoy your swimming.