In Greece, approximately 350 people drown every year, even though our country is a coastal and island country. The largest cities of the country have direct contact with the sea and the water element.
Many Greeks work in the sea or next to the sea, but most of them do not know how to swim or ignore basic safety rules in their contact with water.
The recent tragic incident in Halkidiki with the drowning of the 15-year-old boy from Skydra, as well as other numerous drowning incidents throughout the country, demonstrate that although we are a people of the sea, with a long history and presence in the wet element, we remain unhinged when it comes to swimming.
Every summer we count hundreds of drowning deaths and curse our bad fate, but in the end we remain inactive looking to find the causes and those responsible for the evil that befell us.
However, the evidence is what shows what is being done and what should be done to save our lives from drowning, which most often occurs due to swimming ignorance and indifference to safety rules.
Every year about 350 deaths at sea
The data for last year may show as a pilot what we will record again this year at the end of the tourist season.
Last year in Greece, 342 people lost their lives at sea, participating in activities such as swimming and water sports and activities. 71% of the 238 were Greeks and the rest foreigners. Of the 336 fatal accidents, 275 involved people over 60 (82%), 54 people aged 18-59, 4 children aged 0-12 and 3 of unknown age.
It should be noted that in 2021 the lifeguard coverage on the beaches reached 76%.
The picture is similar for the last four years (2017-2020) during which an average of 349 people lose their lives at sea every year. The analysis of the data shows that 77% of deaths are due to drowning, 10% to pathological causes, 1% to fatal accidents, while there is also a percentage of 12% whose causes have not yet been determined.
In 2020, due to the pandemic and the restriction of mobility, deaths decreased to 259, which is also due to the very large drop in foreign tourists.
However, in previous years we had a large number of drownings. In 2019, a landmark year for the country’s tourism history, deaths had risen to 377, while in 2018 to 396 and in 2017 to 329. The analysis of these data shows that the largest percentage of victims were men and a percentage of around 30% women with the vast majority of these deaths involving people of Greek nationality. Also, the large majority concerns people over 60 years old, i.e. close to 80%.
In fact, as stated in a 2021 study by the University of Patras, “those who are over 80 years old, have 22.7% of the total cases. The highest percentages are also recorded among the elderly, in the age group 75-79 (18.8%) and 70-74 (15.6%). If we add up these three age groups, we will find that the ages of 70 and over account for 57.1% of accidental drowning deaths.
On the contrary and in contrast to the global records, the very young ages gather extremely low percentages. Thus, we find that the age group from 0-10 years, records a rate of less than 1% (0.9%), while the ages, from 10 to 30 years, maintain low rates of drowning deaths. Specifically, they record a rate of 3.9%, which corresponds to 43 incidents. Following is the schematic illustration of these elements”.
The Greeks don’t know how to swim and drown in the shallows
But what do the experts who follow these incidents say and how do they describe the behavior of the average Greek when he finds himself next to the sea?
Nikos Yovanidis, director of the School of Lifesaving
Education ENAK – Hellenic Lifesaving Academyemphasizes that although there is now a large lifeguard coverage on the busy beaches at a rate of 85%, there are still many drowning incidents for specific reasons.
As he emphasizes “there is a huge lack of knowledge and information around swimming and drownings are not reduced by miracles, but by education and learning programs”. “It’s one thing to take a bath and another to swim and float,” he emphasizes and mentions that 95% of drownings occur in the first 6-7 meters from the beach, while he estimates that more than 60% of Greeks do not know how to swim.
“Although our country is surrounded by sea, many Greeks do not know how to swim and do not care about the safety rules, which is why most drownings happen to older people and small children”, he emphasizes and notes that there is a lack of swimming learning programs.
Regarding the presence or lack of lifeguards on the beaches, he emphasizes that the problem is mainly found in the bureaucracy of the municipalities, which are responsible for hiring the lifeguards. “Although in recent years we have greatly improved the relevant legislation, as well as lifesaving equipment with defibrillators and lifeboats, unfortunately many municipalities start the relevant tenders just before the summer and look for lifeguards at the last minute”, he points out.
“The Greeks don’t listen”
Jenny Katsaros, an experienced lifeguard, with a 20-year presence on large beaches and swimming pools throughout Greece, emphasizes that in our country, unfortunately, there is indifference even to the basic water safety rules, while she points out that many drownings are due to pathological causes, especially in old age.
“People haven’t learned to listen and don’t want instructions. He tells you I’m on vacation and I don’t want police on the beach. The bad thing is that they don’t even comply with the issue of child supervision,” he emphasizes and typically mentions that the most unruly are the elderly.
“You tell them don’t go beyond the buoy and they say, ‘You know what I did when I was 17.’ Many times I have received verbal violence from people who do not understand that sometimes beach games are dangerous”, he emphasizes and mentions that teenagers and young people, as well as adults, play the apnea game, which can end in fainting.
“When there is fainting, the person who has fainted cannot shout for help and drowns,” he notes and argues that this year we have increased drowning rates for two reasons. “After the pandemic, people want to have fun and are not paying attention and have spilled onto the beaches while we also have many tourists, so we will have increased incidents” he emphasizes and underlines that more learning programs are needed in schools which today are very few compared to the needs.
“The Greeks don’t know how to swim and many of them run to the beach after lunch, while the most characteristic thing is that many islanders don’t know how to swim even though they were born next to the sea,” he emphasizes.
Why are we drowning?
According to data from the International Lifesaving Federation ILS (International LifeSaving) on drownings, they show that the causes are specific and this is an indication that drowning can be prevented in most if not all cases.
But what are the causes that can lead a person to find himself in this situation? Obviously, many factors can contribute. Chief among these factors are the following:
- Lack of prevention and safety training around or in water
- Failure to follow safety rules or comply with warning or prohibition signs
- Dangerous behaviors including the use of alcohol, drugs, etc
- Lack of supervision at beaches, swimming pools, lakes and rivers
- Poor supervision of children in or near water (bathtub, garden, pool)
- Lack of swimming knowledge
- Ignorance of how to deal with drowning incidents (CPR, First Aid)
But the most tragic thing is that 4 out of 10 drownings happen within two meters of the shore or the side of the pool. And a quarter occur in shallow water a meter or less deep.
The 12 basic safety rules
It is not difficult to limit and avoid drowning if some basic safety rules are followed, mainly related to familiarization with the liquid element.
As stated by Vassilis Gerodimos, Professor of Coaching at the Department of Physical Education and Sports Science of the University of Thessaly, prevention and the application of safety rules save lives.
The basic safety rules to avoid drowning are:
- Attend organized swimming lessons
- Always swim with company and ideally under the supervision of a lifeguard (if this is possible)
- Do not leave vulnerable groups of the population, such as children and the elderly, out of your care
- Avoid swimming immediately after eating (ideally 3 hours should have passed since eating)
- Enter the water gradually so that your body can adapt to the water temperature (especially when the water is cold)
- Stay away from the shallows and swim parallel to the shore
- Do not overestimate your strength and do not show off your strength to other bathers
- Do not play risky games that put you or those around you in danger
- If you are swept into the deep by a current, keep calm, swim parallel to the shoreline to extricate yourself, then vertically to return to shore
- Avoid swimming if you have consumed alcohol or drugs
- Do not ignore any warnings to bathers from the local Authorities
- Be cautious when visiting a beach for the first time. It is good that you have been informed by the residents of the area about any dangers that may arise