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Having fun at rivers, bridges and lakes

There are 180,000 kms of rivers across the country and there is nothing more fun than taking a picnic down to the river on a hot summer’s day.

A tranquil river can be very inviting however, the environment can change very quickly, and hidden dangers make the water unpredictable. 

Jumping in off rocks and cliffs is a fun pastime but it pays to check for hidden objects before you take the leap. Check the water level as well. Throw some stones in and see if they sink or get a stick or log to measure how deep the water is.  

Remember that the riverbed can change each day and especially when there has been flooding. Underwater rocks, boulders and tree branches can shift, and hazards get pushed downstream altering the course of the river. Places which were once safe become dangerous. Swimming holes, which are once ok to dive into, change week to week, and definitely season to season. 

Heaps of serious injuries have occurred with people jumping into rivers and not realising until it is too late that the river is shallow.  Always check before diving in.

Riverbanks can become unstable and undermined during a flood. What looks good from the top can be undermined below and can be unable to bear the weight of a person resulting in a bank collapsing.

Also, check the weather report as well to make sure there is no heavy rain in the forecast. This is particularly important if you're in a river or a swimming hole that is surrounded by hills which can lead to flash floods. 

When swimming near dams, especially those around the central North Island where there are hydroelectric dams, water levels and flow can change significantly throughout the day and massive flows of water maybe released at any time, some without warning. 

Remember that rivers have currents and fast flowing water that can be freezing so take care.

Take care in open bodies of water 

Swimming in an open bodies of water (like a river, lake, or ocean) is different from swimming in a pool. Even kids who are good swimmers need to take care.

First, teach kids never to swim alone. Tell them that using the buddy system means there's always someone looking out for you. When people swim together, they can help each other or go for help in an emergency.

Here are some tips based on the type of water:

At lakes

  • Don't let kids swim without adult supervision. Lakes might be shallow near the bank, but get deep quickly away from shore.
  • Lakes may hide jagged rocks, broken glass, trash, and weeds and grass that could entangle a leg or arm.
  • Make sure kids wear foot protection. In the water, they should wear aqua socks or water shoes.
  • In bad weather, they should get out of the water right away.

At water parks

Water parks can be a lot of fun for kids, but safety rules apply there too. 

  • Make sure the park uses qualified lifeguards.
  • Read all posted signs before letting your child on any rides. Many have age, height, weight, or health requirements.
  • Know which rides are appropriate for your child's age and development. For instance, keep little kids in safe areas away from older kids' splashing and roughhousing about.
  • Water depth and strength can vary among rides and features. Wave pools can quickly go from calm to rough, putting even good swimmers in over their head.
  • Teach your kids to follow all rules and directions, such as walking instead of running and always going down the water slide in the right position — feet-first and face-up.

Boating and using jet skis

  • When boating, the captain or person handling the boat should be sober, experienced, and competent. One third of boating deaths are alcohol-related. Because there are no road signs or lane markers on the water and the weather can be unpredictable, it's important to think quickly and react well under pressure. If someone is drinking, this can be almost impossible.
  • Use proper-fitting, approved flotation devices (life vests). Check the weight and size recommendations on the label, then have your child try it on to make sure it fits snugly. For kids younger than 5 years old, choose a vest with a crotch strap between the legs and head support — the collar will keep the child's head up and face out of the water. Water wings are not effective protection against drowning.



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