Open water swimming lessons teach lifesaving skills at Nagambie Lake

Invigorated: Emerging from the fresh water are (from left) Hudson Mutimer, 4, from Tatura, and Connolly siblings Mason, 7, Hunter, 7, and Alex, 8, from Heathcote.

A series of children’s open water safety classes in Nagambie Lake are more timely than ever this summer, after two years of disruptions to swimming lessons in Victoria and a troubling increase in fatal drownings.

The program run by Vic Swim is in its second year at Nagambie, and instructor Sam Watkins says she sees rapid improvements between classes.

“I had one kid last week who wouldn't even jump off the pontoon, whereas today, he's jumped in there and had a ball,” she said during a lesson at Nagambie Lake on Monday, January 17.

"If one child that we teach over these three weeks gets in trouble and can remember something that we've taught them, then we've done our job and this program’s been worth it.“

Having a splash: Instructors Sam Watkins and Jodie Lambert are passionate about teaching children to enjoy open water safely.

Life Saving Victoria’s 2020-21 annual report detailed one of the worst annual drowning tolls since record-keeping began, with children aged 14 or under representing 25 per cent of all fatal incidents.

Mrs Watkins hails from Rushworth, where her kids grew up swimming in all types of open water, and she is passionate about ensuring the next generation has the skills to enjoy the same experiences.

“We teach the dangers of things to keep a lookout for,” she said.

Scoping the scene: Strong swimmers Ruby Dalton, 11, Evie Dalton, 9, and Alannah Mutimer, 8, plan their open water course.

Vic Swim instructors teach young swimmers to notice the different colour of river, lake and dam water and the way it reduces visibility.

“(They learn) that if they do go under we may not be able to see where they are,” Mrs Watkins said.

“We talk about what could be lurking underneath the water — branches, rocks, twigs, all those sorts of things — and about the current.

“We teach them all of the safety jumps, the safe entries, compact jumps, step-in entries, and we talk about why you wouldn't dive into waters you don't know about.”

Ready to go: Tatura residents Ruby Dalton, 11, her sister Evie, 9, and friend Alannah Mutimer, 8, are excited for the Nagambie Lake lesson.

As well as technical skills, student swimmers learn how to appreciate the natural environment: the sensation of mud between the toes, the types of reeds that line the bank and the excitement of sharing the water with wildlife.

“We had swans fly through a class last week ... What do you do? Well, you just stand still, don’t panic,” Mrs Watkins said.

“Things like that, that you can’t predict are going to happen.”

  • Vic Swim’s open water classes run until January 21 in Nagambie, and registrations remain open. Call Vic Swim on 9271 3800 or visit to sign up.