As a nation girt by sea, swimming is a natural part of life for many Australians. Think about your experiences growing up in and around the water… school swimming carnivals, a family outing to the beach or some laps in the local pool.

The reality is the majority of us didn’t have to think about our ability to stay safe during these activities. Learning to swim is often taken for granted, so ingrained in the Australian culture as being fundamentally important to every individual’s safety and overall motor skill development – Why wouldn’t you learn to swim?

University of Sydney student and Water Safe participant, YiYi Zhou (Zoe) is from Shanghai, China. Before joining the free program, piloted in Semester 1 at the Sydney Uni Sports & Aquatic Centre, Zoe had some basic stroke knowledge but wanted to improve and feel more confident. “Swimming is a rarity in China. Few Chinese learn to swim as there isn’t really a need,” explained Zoe who is in her final year of Masters of Accounting.

In contrast to China, swimming is one of Australia’s most popular past times but it isn’t always just a matter of recreation. The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report shows that there were 249 drowning deaths across Australia between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2018.

An episode of Bondi Rescue makes clear that it’s not all summer, sunshine, and smiles. With a coastline linked by over 10,000 beaches, more than any other country in the world, locals and tourists alike flock to our stretches of sand. The unpredictability of the surf combined with waves of people on holiday mode can be dangerous.

A 10 year study just released into drownings in Australia highlights one in four drowning deaths involved people born outside of Australia. Last year alone there were 20 overseas tourists who drowned, predominately from European (45%) and Asian (40%) countries, as well as 6 international students.

Justin Scarr, CEO Royal Life Saving says, “Reducing drowning in these high risk populations requires an integrated approach, working with universities, local tour operators, national parks and lifeguard services.”

Run for University of Sydney students with limited or no experience in water, the SUSF Water Safe program attracted over 300 enrolments in 2018. “I first learnt about the program during O-Week and thought that fitting in 45 minutes per week to learn a life skill was a no brainer,” said Zoe.

Students were also granted free pool access outside of their lesson time to practise their newly learnt skills. A unique aspect of the course is the student to student connection achieved through all instructors being USYD students themselves. “The instructors were all super friendly and really helped me to correct my technique. My progress from the first lesson to the last was huge and I’m so grateful to have had this opportunity while studying,” said Zoe.

A social event was incorporated into the program, allowing all Water Safe participants to discuss their experiences and enjoy each other’s company outside of the water. SUSF hopes to grow this free initiative into the future and continue to play a small part in the national drowning prevention strategy by providing a campus experience that will hopefully be cherished forever by all participants.

“1 in 4 drowning deaths involve people born outside of Australia”