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Otago offering free water survival skills programme


Wednesday 13 December 2017 10:46am

Chris Button, the Dean of School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Science, is inviting kids to take part in a research project to learn about open water safety. Photo: Sharron Bennett.

In a bid to curb New Zealand’s horrific drowning rates, a University of Otago researcher is aiming to fill the gap in children’s open water survival skills.

Associate Professor Chris Button is inviting 120 seven to 11-year-olds to engage in a free, week long, intensive programme this January.

"This is a valuable opportunity for children to learn about open water conditions and experience them under expert supervision. They will be taught fundamental survival skills in locations such as Otago Harbour, Brighton Beach and Outram River.

"Many parents lack the knowledge and skills to teach their children how to stay safe effectively in open water; this project will teach children about these environments in a fun and engaging way," he says.

Amongst other important topics, the programme will cover: Knowledge of how to attract help in an emergency; underwater swimming to retrieve an object; float and control breathing; fitting life-jacket appropriately; beach games - relating to a skill to stay safe on the beach, e.g. sand sculpture of a rip current; understanding river features (currents, eddies, strainers, obstacles banks, unseen hazards); awareness of appropriate behaviour in the event of a boat capsizing.

It will begin and end with assessments of the children’s knowledge and physical competency in the water.

The research project is an extension of Associate Professor Button’s previous work on water survival skills taught in swimming pools.

"Most New Zealand drownings happen in open water not in swimming pools. There are many factors that are different in open water in comparison to a swimming pool such as currents, waves, temperature, unseen objects, etc.

"Furthermore a lot of time is spent in swimming lessons focussing on the mechanics of how to swim and more emphasis needs to be directed towards teaching basic survival skills in and around water."
Associate Professor Button says the children’s safety is paramount throughout the programme.

“We have recruited several partner organisations to work with us so local experts for each environment coordinate the teaching. Each organisation routinely applies rigorous health and safety procedures when working with children in the outdoors.”

The project is supported by Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) who recognise the potential value for their national Water Skills for Life programme.

Mark Lindsay, the manager of Policy and Advocacy for WSNZ says the work of Associate Professor Button is crucial to Water Skills for Life.

"This project will add to our knowledge around how children respond to water survival skills training and how well they understand and retain that knowledge. Chris Button’s research will help the on-going refinement and improvement of Water Skills for Life.

"Ultimately, this work will help to keep all New Zealand children safe while enjoy our water.”

The programme will be held in two blocks, the first from January 8 to 12 and the second from January 22 to 26.

Places are limited so parents are advised to sign up quickly to secure a place.

See the Water Survival Skills website for more details about the programme, and to sign up.

For more information, please contact:

Associate Professor Chris Button
Phone: 021 224 7072

Ben Christie
Senior Communications and Media Advisor
Water Safety New Zealand

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