Natural Hazards

NSRI - Water Safety Tips

The NSRI urge recreational boaters, sailors, paddlers, bathers, fishermen, children, seafarers and anglers to exercise safety and caution around coastal waters, inland waters and swimming pools at all times.

Do not drink alcohol and then go for a swim, drive a boat, paddle a paddle craft, surf, go angling from rocks close to shore, sail a sail craft or jump off rocks or from high places into any water.

Every year accidents occur around waterways, inland and coastal, and a safety conscious approach to water will contribute to your families safety this summer.


Launching your craft in fine weather could see you fighting through a major storm only hours later and we urge anyone making use of the sea and on inland waters to check out weather forecasts before launching and to take all the necessary safety precautions into account in order to be prepared for the worst if weather conditions change suddenly or if you land up, unexpectedly, in a dire emergency situation.

Prepare yourself and your crew for an emergency. Don't try to handle an emergency situation for the first time in a real emergency!

Anyone launching any kind of craft to go to sea or on inland waters should keep safety top of mind always:

  • Always let a responsible person know your time of departure, the route you plan to travel and your estimated return time and stick to your route and plans. Make sure the responsible person has an action plan well versed to contact the NSRI if you do not return as scheduled.
  • Check that your craft and equipment are in good working order and carry the correct safety approvals and certifications. Make sure your craft has your name and a land based contact number and your details stenciled on the craft
  • Have your nearest NSRI emergency phone number stored in your phone (You can obtain your nearest NSRI emergency phone number from NSRI's Web Page ). Other vital national emergency numbers (that can also be used in conjunction with your "nearest sea rescue emergency number" to report Sea Rescue emergencies are 10177 (from any phone) and in the Kwa-Zulu Natal area 10111 (from any phone). The emergency number for Hout Bay, Station 8 is 071 678 0523.
  • Plan for an emergency before launching onto water so that if you land up in a life threatening situation the steps you take to ensure your survival are well rehearsed.
  • Life-Jackets are the safety belts when you are on water and should be worn at all times and children should have properly fitting life-jackets.
  • Have your communications devices, a cell-phone or VHF radio, with fully charged batteries stored in watertight plastic sleeves.
  • Carry red distress flares, a signaling mirror or CD disc, a referees whistle, a waterproof torch and wear the correct brightly colored gear and a hat and sunscreen and keep yourselves well hydrated.
  • Safety and ensuring your survival when the odds, or the weather, unexpectedly turn against you begins before you leave home. We have gone so far as to recommending to boaters and paddlers to practice safety and emergency techniques by jumping into a swimming pool with all your gear to practice using your safety safety equipment (practice in a safe environment) as it is no good trying to familiarize yourself with your safety equipment for the first time in a real emergency.


Anglers fishing along the coastline are urged to wear Life-Jackets while fishing close to the shores edge. Be acutely aware of the high and low tides, never turn your back to the sea and take extra precautions during the twice monthly Spring Tides.


Children should have responsible adult supervision around any water at all times especially at swimming pools. Statistics released by the Medical Research Council show the greatest number of drowning accidents occur amongst children aged between 5 and 14 in swimming pools, rivers, lakes and dams. Always have someone responsible watching over your children while they are swimming.

Swimming Pools should be surrounded by a cloak of safety. Nets over a swimming pool and fences and gates should be well maintained and securely placed at all times. Children should not be left alone around swimming pools.


Rip-Currents are the greatest cause of drowning accidents along the coast. A rip-current is a river of water flowing fast out to sea against the incoming waves and can occur at different places along the coastline regularly throughout the day.

Rip Currents are a naturally forming channel, or river, of water heading out to sea against the incoming currents. As waves push water onto the shore the water has to find a way of heading back out to sea. This is done by rip currents. They form at different places constantly along the coast.

Anyone caught in a rip-current will realize that they are being swept out to sea faster than what they can swim towards shore. If you are caught in a rip-current:

Do not panic and do not try to swim against the current. As hard as it sounds let the current take you out to sea.

Tread water by moving your arms and legs in circular movements to stay afloat and keep your lungs gently filled with air to aid in your buoyancy.

Raise one arm in the air and shout for help to alert people on the shore that you are in trouble.

The rip-current force dissipates the further out to sea it gets so at your first opportunity swim parallel to the shore front until you are free of the rip and then use the incoming waves to aid your progress to get back to shore.


During Spring Tide, which happens twice a month every month of the year at full moon and again at new moon along every coast in the world, rip currents are at their strongest for a few days leading up to Spring Tide, peaking on the day of Spring Tide (on the day of the full or the new moon), and lasting for a few days after the day of full moon or new moon.

Spring Tides cause a higher than normal high tide and a lower than normal low tide and hence they cause much stronger than normal rip-currents (compared to other times of the month). Spring Tides are caused by the Magnetic pull of the Moons effect on earth.

Spring Tide rip-currents can be so strong that they are known to sometimes sweep people off their feet in ankle deep water and sweep people rapidly out to sea.

Extreme caution should be exercised during the Spring Tides.


Bathers at beaches should try to swim only when and where lifeguards are on duty and swim within the safe demarcated swimming zones are posted by lifeguards at the beach using their red and yellow flags. Lifeguards at beaches change the safe demarcated swimming zones regularly throughout the day (depending where they detect the strongest rip currents to be) and ask bathers to move to bathe in the new placed channel. The public should obey the lifeguards instructions.

Swimming at rivers, lakes and dams can be dangerous as swirling water and rapidly flowing rivers can cause a bather to be sucked under water while swimming, or swept rapidly down stream and into possible danger, hence inland water bathers should be cautious at all times.


Everyone living along the coast or anyone visiting the coast and all sea users should find out what their nearest NSRI emergency telephone number is. The NSRI have sea rescue stations along the coast around South Africa and also have rescue stations at the Vaal Dam, the Hartbeespoort Dam and at Victoria Lake (in Germiston).

To find out what your nearest sea rescue emergency number is go to The emergency number for Hout Bay, Station 8, is 071 678 0523.

Another very important emergency phone number to store in your phone is 10177 (dial from any phone). 10177 is the National emergency medical and rescue services contact number and should only be used to report an emergency.

10177 can also be used (in conjunction with your nearest sea rescue emergency number) to report a sea rescue emergency but in the Kwa-Zulu Natal area an additional sea rescue emergency number is the Police's 10111.

NSRI - Be safe near Water

Here are a few tips from Sea Rescue’s educational arm, the WaterWise Academy, to keep children safe.

  • “Do not let your children out of your sight for one second when they are playing in the water, or swimming,” says Andrew Ingram, Manager of the NSRI’s WaterWise Academy.
  • “Contrary to popular belief children do not thrash around and shout for help when they are drowning. They may be able to wave and shout for help when in distress, but drowning is often completely silent.”
  • “ A person who is vertical in the water, with their head tilted back ... may be a person in desperate need of help,” said Ingram.
  • Children should never swim alone. When planning a trip to the sea choose a beach that has life savers on duty and swim only between their flags. If you do this you don’t need to worry about rip-currents, the life savers will do this for you, and if you get into difficulty they will come and help you.
  • If you are caught in a rip current and feel yourself being pulled out to sea do not panic.
  • The current will slow down as it gets further out. Simply swim parallel to the beach and then use the waves on either side of the rip to help you get back in to the beach.”
  • “Or, if you are tired, float on your back and wave for help.”
  • “ Before going to the beach apply sunscreen and reapply during the time that the kids are playing. Make sure that they have hats on and try to keep out of the sun between 11 and 3pm.”
  • “Never turn your back on the sea,” adds Ingram.
  • “This is most important for children playing on rocks, and something that should be reinforced in children on holiday in an unfamiliar place.”
  • “Whenever setting out on a boat always put a personal floatation device on your kids before you launch. Lifejackets are the seat belts of the sea. It is extremely difficult to put a lifejacket on once you are in the water. Try doing this in a swimming pool where it is nice and calm and you will see what I mean,” says Ingram”
  • “ Make sure that you, as the responsible adult in the boat, have a cell phone with fully charged batteries in a waterproof pouch, a cd or mirror, red distress flares and a referees whistle to signal with. These should be attached to your lifejacket and not in a cupboard or locker.”
  • “Make sure to check your safety equipment and practice using it before you need to,” said Ingram.
  • “ Alcohol and water do not mix. You would not drink and drive so don’t drink and swim.”
  • Take the time to put emergency telephone numbers into your cell phone before your holiday. In a real emergency it is very difficult to stay calm and remember what number to use. Make sure that you have the ambulance telephone number 10177 and in the Kwa-Zulu Natal area the Police phone number 10111 and have your local Sea Rescue number ( see ) programmed into your phone before you need them. The emergency number for Hout Bay, Station 8, is 071 678 0523.

What to do when you encounter or are confronted by a Snake

(Courtesy of Mike Kokhuis)

  • Remain immobile until the snake escapes. If it remains in your path, withdraw quietly
  • Notify Watchcon on 021 790 9333 or a snake handler
  • Keep children away and lock-up your pets until the area has been declared safe
  • Observe the snake from a safe distance and / or monitor its movement until the handler has arrived on the scene
  • Try and identify the species


First Aid measures

  • Expose the bite, cut away clothing and remove constrictive objects such as rings and shoes; ignore if swelling has set in. Do not use ice !
  • Excess venom must be wiped away with plenty of water; do not cut or squeeze a snake bite.
  • Maintain the airway and ventilate at all times / eventually you may have to apply CPR (Cape Cobra bite!!), resort to artificial respiration if necessary. Also keep victims warm by wrapping them in blankets etc. If patient is not responsive begin CPR immediately.
  • Discourage any unnecessary movement and keep victim calm as to avoid the speed-up the spread of venom. If possible use the upright position i.e. limbs below the heart level
  • In the event of a suspected or known neurotoxin bite (i.e. by a Cape Cobra) apply a splint / pressure bandage (remove if patient has increased swelling and pain). Pressure bandages should not be used for puff adder bites.
  • In serious snakebite cases it may necessary to administer antivenom; inform Tygerberg and / or Red Cross Hospital(s) that you may have a snakebite victim and describe symptoms.
  • Note: On skin, venom will do very little or no damage, unless it enters an open wound. In the eyes, it causes a burning pain and severe inflammation. Rubbing the eyes should be discouraged. Rinse immediately with large quantities of water or any other harmless fluid e.g. milk, cold drink etc. Seek medical advice a.s.a.p.
  • CPR = 30 compressions and 2 ventilations

Treatment Guidelines

It is of utmost importance to transport the victim to a proper medical facility as soon as possible.

Snakebite victims should be hospitalized (a suspected Boomslang bite may require at least 96h hospitalization.) Pets should be taken to the vet at once.

Note: There are only two types of anti-venom, one for boomslangs and the other for anything else.

Useful Contact details (for 24/7 advice)

Netcare 911: 0800 333 444

Snakebite emergencies 24/7

Red Cross Children’s Hosp: 021 689 5227

Tygerberg Hosp: 021 931 6129

Facts and fallacies

The majority of snakes in the world and in southern Africa, including cobras, cannot spit their venom. Snakes do not actually ‘spit’ their venom but rather squirt it, although ‘spit’ is commonly used. The forked tong is used only for smelling and cannot sting or harm in any way.

Contrary to popular believe, the Puff Adder, cannot strike backwards. Like most other snakes, it is capable of striking forwards or to the sides. It is not true that the Boomslang will drop from a tree onto anyone who risks walking beneath it, and then strike the moment it makes contact.

Snakes usually pair up only to mate, at other times they are loners. (Several snakes may use the same hiding place or hibernate together, but if you find a snake in a hedge, it does not mean the hedge conceals a nest full of snakes.)

Snake biology

A snake has good vision, but is it is used mainly for detecting movement. Hence the old, but true, maxim that if you encounter a snake the best thing is to stand perfectly still. Snakes do not strike at stationary objects unless, perhaps, they resemble prey. Snakes cannot hear however they are sensitive to vibrations and can often detect the approach of a person or animal. (Snakes never chase after people and a person could easily outrun any snake if they are both moving rapidly in the same direction.)

Safety Tip

When walking in the mountains or the bush tread very firmly and walk slowly. This will alert any snakes lying in your pathway and enable them to get out of the way. Trail running is a dangerous sport as far as the likelihood of snake bites is concerned. Be very aware of this.

The species generally seen or experienced in our area are:

BOOMSLANG = very dangerous

Identification details

Colour is variable i.e. uniform green, brown, blackish or brick red.

The enormous eyes are brilliant emerald green.

Length 1.2 – 1.55 m, max 1.85m


Found in a variety of habitats e.g. lowland forests, grassland and fynbos.

The common tree snake is seen mostly during the day.


A notably unobtrusive, shy and diurnal snake that spends most of its time, including it’s hunting, in trees and shrubs, but it does descend to the ground to feed (especially along streams).

If provoked the boomslang will inflate the neck region and may strike sideways and forward with a jerky motion.


Haematoxic (effects the blood clotting process; adversely affecting the blood or the functioning of the circulatory system), symptoms include minimal or no swellings at the site of the bite followed by oozing of blood from the site, headaches, mental confusion, nausea and vomiting as well as increased sweating usually several hours after the bite. This is followed be bleeding from small cuts, the mucous membranes and, eventually severe internal bleeding (12-36h).

CAPE COBRA = very dangerous

Identification details

Extremely variable, usually golden brown, speckled brown and bright yellow especially in the Western Cape.

Length 1.2 – 1.4m, seldom exceeding 1.6m


Found mostly in arid areas, fynbos, disused termite mounts and rock crevices.

It is frequently found near human dwellings, developed suburbs and informal settlements.


This medium-sized slender Cobra with its broad head is active during the day and in the early evening.

When attacked (i.e. provoked) this nervous snake invariably faces its enemy, spreading a broad impressive hood.

Once on the defensive, it strikes readily.


Neurotoxic (a condition of substance poisonous to nerve-tissue, adversely affecting neuro-muscular function), reactions pain at the site of the bite with no or minimal swelling, as well as drowsiness, vomiting and increased sweating within 5 – 30 min. Other neurotoxic symptoms such as blurred vision, drooping eyelids, slurred speech, double vision and difficulty with swallowing and breathing could follow within 30 -180 min.

PUFF ADDER = very dangerous

Identification details

Variable yellow, yellow-brown, orange-brown or grey with distinct regular chevron-like markings over the back.

Length 0.6 – 0.9 m, 1.2 max


Common throughout southern Africa, except for mountain tops, true desert and dense forests.

Usually found on the ground.


A slow moving, bad tempered and excitable snake (with fangs up to 18mm) that may hiss or puff when disturbed.

Very active after sunset.


Cytotoxic (cell-destroying), reactions include immediate burning pain at the site of the bite followed by marked local swelling that could continue for 48 – 72 h. In sever cases the entire limb may swell.

Olive Grass Snake

back-fanged (mildly venomous), 1 – 1.8m max, uniform olive green, underside is white to yellowish.


low level moist vegetation. Often found in the vicinity of water / marshes.


A robust, active and alert diurnal snake that actively hunts its prey.


mild = transfer victim to a hospital for symptomatic treatment

Olive House Snake

fangless (harmless), 0.45 – 0.75m, olive green, olive grey or light brown.

House Snake Habitat: low level moist vegetation


Is partial to rubble and debris and can be found near human dwellings; will retreat before one can approach closely.

Mole Snake

fangless (harmless), 1 – 1.4m max, uniform light grey to light-dark brown, brick red. juveniles are light reddish brown to greyish brown with zig-zag markings.


mountainous regions, sandy scrub covered and in grassveld regions.


A large powerful constrictor with a pointed snout and small head very well adapted for its burrowing existence. The Mole Snake, although not venomous, can be quite vicious when threatened and will hiss and lunge forward with its mouth agape.