Ballarat students are among the first in the state to take part in an innovative new 'Bush Nippers' program to stem drownings in inland waterways.
The Life Saving Victoria program is an adaptation of the Nippers program that runs on beaches across the state every summer teaching water safety and rescue.
Recognising that almost half of drownings occur in inland waterways, LSV and Ballarat Aquatic and Lifestyle Centre have partnered in a pilot project to make regional children safer around the waterways they are most likely to swim in.
More than 200 pupils from Macarthur Street, Yuille Park and Pleasant Street primary schools will spend six weeks learning water safety, survival and rescue skills and in the final week will put their new skills to the test at St George's Lake in Creswick.
"It's not about stroke technique and development, this Bush Nippers program is about children learning the conditions, understanding when it's safe to go in the water, what to do if they get in trouble in the water and how to safely help someone else if they are in trouble," said LSV community education project coordinator Jodie Walker.
The program also focuses on the importance of being fit and healthy in keeping yourself safe, and first aid skills including CPR, use of defibrillators and basic first aid.
"As part of Bush Nippers, the students will get to participate in both land-based and water based-activities, as well as learning skills in rescues, board paddling, first aid and developing an understanding of aquatic environments," said LSV strategic projects education manager Trudy Micallef.
BALC aquatic education team leader Leanne White many people did not understand the hidden dangers of inland waterways.
"It's great to be involved in this pilot program bringing our local children that opportunity to understand the dangers of inland waterways," she said. "Often we talk about swimming between the flags at the beach, which is a really fantastic campaign with very good results, but our kids potentially don't go to the beach they swim in inland waterways.
"People in rivers often don't understand there are currents in the river. If children find themselves unexpectedly in that water, how do they behave? What does their body need to do? It's feet first and the reason why."
Water temperature is often colder too. "Often the first layer is quite warm but underneath it's freezing cold. When the body is in cold water your ability to assess risk and think about things is reduced."
At the end of the six-week program, Ballarat students will receive a certificate of completion and there are also opportunities for assessment towards the Victorian Water Safety Certificate.
"We're excited to have the Bush Nippers program at the Ballarat Aquatic and Lifestyle Centre. It's a fantastic, fun way to bring different inland water safety lessons to children who spend a lot of their time around lakes, pools, and dams in regional areas," Ms White said.
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