Caption: Stock Image

Understanding the risk: How first aid and training and water safety can save your life

With the amazing climate we have in South Africa, many people spend their leisure time next to water, whether it is your swimming pool at home, fishing at a river or enjoying some water sport on a dam. Accidents, medical emergencies, and disasters can happen anywhere and at any time, and frequently they call for the intervention of trained onlookers or emergency personnel. Understanding first aid and CPR in a catastrophic situation can save a person's life. First aid measures can reduce shock, minimize discomfort, and stop additional harm in less dire circumstances. It is true that first aid training unquestionably contributes to lifesaving. But that's not all – promptly administering the proper first aid can speed up recovery and determine whether a patient will have a temporary or permanent handicap. You need to maintain composure in emergency situations and remember the actions you need to take. Your confidence and comfort levels will increase as a result of first aid training, making you more productive and in charge when necessary.

Principles of emergency care

According to Jan Oberholzer, Senior Division Manager at Barberton EMS, there are three basic principles of emergency care:
  • Preserve life – make a quick assessment of the patient. Start basic life saving measures which entails airway management, restoring breathing, providing adequate circulation of oxygenated blood and control of life threatening bleeding. Position the patient correctly.
  • Prevent further injury – don’t move the patient with a suspected spinal injury and maintain manual inline immobilisation of a patient’s head by using your hands until totally immobilized by the paramedics. Splint suspected fractures so the broken bone ends do not tear blood vessels and nerves.
  • Promote recovery – stay calm and reassure the patient all the time and maintain body temperature. Arrange the proper transportation for the patient to an appropriate hospital for definitive treatment.

With first aid training you will learn how to manage the following situations.

Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

In the case of any accident, the first step is to determine if the patient is still breathing. CPR is one of the most lifesaving procedures that you will be taught when doing a course on first aid. CPR must be initiated after you have assessed that the patient has no spontaneous breathing or a spontaneous palpable pulse. If the patient is pulled out of the water after a suspected drowning, you have to resuscitate the patient and breathe for him or her until the paramedics arrive and take over. That is crucial in saving a person’s life.

Wounds and bleeding

It is not only drowning accidents that happens where there is water. Most injuries take place when launching the boat or while skiing or jet skiing. If a person has an open wound that bleeds a lot, he or she can bleed out within minutes. It is crucial that any loss of blood be stopped immediately until the paramedics arrive to take over.


Fractures are another kind of injury that needs immediate attention. In the pre-hospital setting, splinting aims to:

  • Stabilise a fracture site
  • Prevent simple fractures from becoming compound
  • Prevent further soft tissue damage
  • Minimise bleeding
  • Reduce pain
It is crucial that you know what to do in the case of a possible fracture since it can also be life threatening.

Spinal injury

The initial care of a patient with a spinal injury will in many cases determine whether that patient regains normal function or becomes a cripple for the rest of his or her life. The only treatment for a spinal injury is prevention, and that starts at the scene of the accident.


Unless a boat explodes on the water the only burn wounds that you are likely to sustain is from the sun or the braai fire. However, it is crucial that you know how to treat these wounds. Firstly, remove all clothing from the burnt area as well as any jewellery that restrict circulation when swelling occurs. Use copious amounts of water to stop the burning process. Once the area has cooled cover it with a clean, dry dressing. Cover the patient to maintain a normal body temperature and wait for the paramedics. The main aim in the field is to make the patient comfortable and compensate for loss of thermos-regulation.


Jan Oberholzer said that you also need an action plan when you are going on holiday, or simple going away for the weekend, especially if it is to a remote area or an area with no cell phone reception. Ensure beforehand where the necessary assistance will be if you have an emergency. Where is the closest hospital, police station, clinic or doctor? What are the emergency telephone numbers? How are you going to transport a patient if need be? The most important safety measure when you are going to spend time on or in the water is, know how to swim! Jan will be at OppiDam on December 10, 2022, to present a first-aid course for those interested. He can be contacted on 063 690 8910. The course will be presented directly after a skippers’ licence course.

@ 2022 Copyright. Designed by