Water safety tips every parent needs to know this summer

As the schools break for the summer holidays, our beaches and coastlines will get busier. CHRIS DUNNE talks to Cork County Council Safety Officer to get some advice on how to stay safe
Water safety tips every parent needs to know this summer

Cork County Council in conjunction with the Irish Coast Guard, RNLI, Water Safety Ireland and a number of other Local Authorities have produced two short films on the dangers of using inflatable toys in open water. The key message is Enjoy the Water Safely but Be Safe by not using inflatables on open water.

AS we head into the busy season at the seaside — with wonderful Blue Flag beaches on our doorstep, like Redbarn, Barleycove, Garretstown, Inchydoney, and Kinsale — water safety is of the uppermost importance.

“The main thing to keep in mind around water is the supervision of children,” says Cork County Council safety officer, Caroline Casey, whose role is to promote safety for the public.

“Thirty children drown in Ireland every 10 years,” says Caroline.

“Lack of education and adequate adult supervision are the main reasons for these unnecessary tragedies,” adds Caroline.

The Cork woman completed a H.Dip in coaching and coaching psychology at UCC and her research project was based on safety education for children, using a coaching approach, active in water safety, road safety and farm safety.

“I realised we could make an impact on education and promoting it,” says Caroline.

She says we can be blasé about water, but people should not leave their guard down.

“When it comes to water, supervision is key,” says Caroline.

“We take it for granted that maybe children know more than they actually do.”

When she visits schools, her aim is to develop the children’s risk assessment skills.

“Be it on road, around water, or on a farm; it’s about using your common sense,” says Caroline.

“What is your gut telling you? It’s about being responsible for your behaviour.”

How can we be more responsible now that we can avail of the blue flag beaches and enjoy trips to our inland lakes and rivers?

“Knowing things like how to throw a buoy into the water can be very useful,” Caroline says.

“Some might say that you should throw it over the person’s head. When I’m talking to children we talk through the situation and I get the children to come up with the correct answer.”

Which is?

“When throwing a ring buoy, you should drop the end of the rope on the ground and put your leg on top of it to anchor it.”

Caroline Casey, Water & Road Safety Development Officer, Cork County Council, pictured far right. Picture: Brian Lougheed
Caroline Casey, Water & Road Safety Development Officer, Cork County Council, pictured far right. Picture: Brian Lougheed

Caroline initiated the idea of a Safety Flag Award for the schools of County Cork. The flags are awarded to each school on foot of completing a personal safety programme.

“They’re proud of their flag,” says Caroline.

“They can have it flying inside or outside the school. It’s a way of marking that a school is safety conscious.”

It starts the conversation.

“The flag is also a talking point,” Caroline says.

“It starts a conversation around safety.”

Having a conversation about things like where it is safe to swim is important.

“Knowing areas where it is safe to swim and where there is safety equipment nearby, and where a lifeguard is on duty, is always a good thing,” says Caroline.

“If conditions are hazardous or unpredictable, people should not go into the water. Always make sure your phone is with you and that it is charged.”

Inflatable toys, like air-beds in the water, are hazardous.

“Inflatable air-beds shouldn’t be used out on open water,” says Caroline.


There are 14 steps to safe and enjoyable swimming.

  • Don’t swim alone.
  • Don’t swim after eating.
  • Don’t swim if you’re too hot or tired.
  • Don’t swim in strange places.
  • Don’t swim out after anything drifting.
  • Don’t stay in the water too long.
  • Don’t swim out to sea.
  • Swim parallel and close to shore.
  • Do what the lifeguard tells you.
  • Never use air mattresses.
  • Pay attention to signs on the beach.
  • Don’t be a bully.
  • Learn to use equipment before trying it out.
  • Learn resuscitation.

Caroline says it is important to know your flags at the beach and the times that the lifeguards are on duty.

“Red flag means don’t go swimming,” says Caroline. Red and Yellow flags signify that the lifeguards are on duty and you should swim between the two flags and parallel to the shore. Black and White chequered flags signify that the area is a surfing area.

We should know how to communicate with the lifeguards who are on duty.

“If you hear a whistle, please look in the direction of the beach,” says Caroline. “They are alerting you to something.”

The lifeguards are plain to be seen.

“They wear red and yellow and they are there for your safety so keep an eye out for them and follow their advice,” says Caroline.

“If you get into difficulties, raise your hand and shout for help.”

Brothers John (left) and James Walshe, lifeguards.
Brothers John (left) and James Walshe, lifeguards.


Lifeguard John Walshe is in his fourth year of life-guarding and he noticed how busy the beaches got when the first lockdown was lifted during Covid.

“Because of lockdown and travel restrictions due to Covid-19, people flocked to the beach from all over the county and beyond when the restrictions were lifted,” says John.

“The previous spell of good weather brought huge crowds of day-trippers to the seaside to enjoy the sunshine and the sea,” adds John, who also did a stint at Derrynane Beach, which was named as one of the best beaches in Ireland.

“This year was particularly busy on the water,” says John, who was on patrol at Garryvoe beach keeping everyone safe and informed.

John Walshe is a lifeguard.
John Walshe is a lifeguard.

“We always have to be alert and keep our eyes open at all times. People enjoyed boating, fishing, kayaking and just having fun playing games outdoors beside the sea. There was a lovely atmosphere here every day with families picnicking and doing activities.”

There are lots of things to do beside the sea-side.

“Last year there was even yoga classes on the beach!”

Like his brother, John is an experienced Lifeguard.

“Lifeguarding is all about good communication, patience, concentration and reliability. It is a very responsible job and both James, my brother, and I, take our roles very seriously.”

Caroline says that we can look forward to enjoying the water and the coastline with safety in mind.

“Lifeguards are on duty on 12 beaches in County Cork,” she says.

“We employ both full-time lifeguards and relief lifeguards from June through to September.

James Walshe is a lifeguard.
James Walshe is a lifeguard.

“You can keep up to date on the beaches with lifeguards on duty on the Cork County Council beach/lifeguard Facebook page where you can get daily updates.

“If there is no flag displayed, there is no lifeguard on duty.

“We want people to enjoy the water and the coastline, and in order to be safe, be aware of the decisions you make and the preparation you make.”


“Hopefully, in the future, primary schools can again avail of free visits to Tir na Sí where an open day takes place to offer invaluable free advice to children on water and road safety. Water and machinery are everyday elements on a farm,” says Caroline.

“Tir na Sí farm in Watergrasshill regularly host Cork County Council farm water, and road safety open days for primary school children, pointing out areas where hazards may be present.”

Farms yards are not playgrounds.

“Even if children are familiar with an area, it is always important to be aware of possible hazards,” says Caroline.

“Children can ask themselves in a simple way before they do something; is this safe? It’s the same with road safety, ensuring parents and children wear hi-viz jackets, hold hands and stay near the ditches when walking on the road.

“Supervision while cycling on the road is important as is the wearing of a cycle helmet. Responsible dog walking is also important. When walking cliffs, keep well back. Common sense is key to safety.”

There is a bottom line.

“If you don’t feel safe, remember, don’t do it.”

We all remember the Safe-Cross code.

“Rules keep you safe,” adds Caroline.

Lifeguards in training at Garrylucas, Cork. Picture:  David Creedon / Anzenberger
Lifeguards in training at Garrylucas, Cork. Picture:  David Creedon / Anzenberger


With summer coming and freedom coming, we can get a little careless.

“In a group, we often forget rules and tend to get excited,” says Caroline.

We should ask questions of ourselves to keep safe.

“Always remind yourself, if I do this, or this, in a certain way, what can happen to me?”

Caroline is passionate about her job and about people’s safety.

“It is a pleasure working with the public,” she says.

“We work together with them, it helps us to keep everybody safe.”

Knowing things like locating the code on the ring buoy situated at the beach helps keep people safe.

“Each buoy has a locate code, Loc 8 code, which identifies the exact location should an accident occur. Quote the locate code to the emergency services,” says Caroline.

“The relevant code alerts emergency services to the location.

“Enjoying our beautiful countryside and our Blue Flag beaches is a wonderful thing,” says Caroline who enjoys the great outdoors as well.

“Stay safe this summer. Swim within your depth and stay with your depth.”

For more info see: www.iws.ie

Contact Caroline Casey at caroline.casey@corkcoco.ie

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