PHOTOS: Advice from Cronulla and Hurstville swim school directors after drowning tragedies

Over-estimating a child’s swimming ability and lack of supervision are among dangers pinpointed by learn-to-swim program directors in St George and Sutherland Shire.

Mark Simpson and John Sortwell were commenting on what Royal Life Saving NSW described as “an unprecedented” drowning toll over the holiday period.

There have been 20 water-related deaths recorded in NSW since December 18, and four have involved children in backyard pools.

Mark Simpson, who runs Cronulla Beach Swim School, said parents often over-estimated the swimming ability of their children.

“We get parents who come to us and say, ‘our kids can swim, and don’t need [floatation] equipment,” he said 

“But, when we assess the kids, they go straight to the bottom.”

Mr Simpson said, without referring to specific tragedies, parents might think their children were better swimmers than they were, and not supervise them adequately.

”Supervision is extremely important,” he said.

Mr Simpson said swimming, and becoming stronger at it, had to be worked at over a period of time.

Adults could also fall into the trap of over-estimating their own swimming ability, he said.

Just because you were a strong swimmer as a kid doesn’t mean that is still the case

Mark Simpson

“Just because you were a strong swimmer as a kid doesn’t mean that is still the case,” he said.

“Swimming is a maintenance thing, and you have to practice it regularly.”

The swim school, located in the Cronulla Sports Pavilion, caters for babies of four to six months up to seniors.

John Sortwell, who has managed Col Jones Swim Centre at Hurstville for 20 years, said swimming lessons, while extremely important, were not enough to stop children drowning.

“Supervision is critical, as is proper pool fencing and keeping the gate closed, and it is also very important that parents learn CPR,” said 

“The important thing to understand is there are different layers of protection,” he said.

”No swimming lesson will drown proof a child; it helps make a child safer, but it doesn’t make a child safe.”

Mr Sortwell said it was pleasing the strong Asian community in Hurstville had embraced swimming as part of their children’s education.

“They recognise swimming will be a big part of their children’s lives,” he said.

“We also have a group of very keen adults, many of whom did not have the opportunity to learn to swim when they were younger.”