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Mermaid tails made a brief appearance in Australian aquatic facilities until the middle of 2015 when a video posted to YouTube went viral. The clip shows a young girl wearing a Mermaid Tail in a backyard pool. She goes underwater, and appears to not be able to resurface. The girl’s Mother reaches down and quickly recovers her.

Many Australian facilities banned them on the premise that they were too dangerous and before I give you another point of view, I want to go on the record as saying, they can be.

Aquatic facilities are unique beasts. We have captive audiences and the ability to develop skills and deliver messages that improve safety not just at our centres, but at other swimming environments. We love the fact that parents are probably in the water and within arm’s reach of their kids at the lake, the beach and at home.

Our reaction to Mermaid Tails was swift. Banning them has stopped kids coming unstuck at public facilities but that’s pretty much where it stopped. Are we interested in preventing drowning or just preventing drowning at our facility?  Do we have a social responsibility to teach people how to be safe around water.

The kids… let’s change that, it’s mostly girls… the girls at risk of drowning while wearing these tails, didn’t throw them in the bin when we banned them. They just use them in their pool at home or at their friend’s place.

Everyone knows of the problems associated with inflatable swim rings. Many of us have seen them fail first hand. I can find at least three YouTube clips of swim rings failing and yet, we haven’t banned them. If they went viral we might. ‘Viral’ tends to get more attention.

In other countries there are centres that run Mermaid Classes. Imagine employing a female butterfly swimmer from the resident swim squad who would deliver a program on how to use tails safely. They have designated mermaid parties. They sell tails in the swim shop. The sessions are booked out and provide a steady income stream.

The girls then go home and have fun safely. Their parents are probably talking to other parents around the BBQ about what the kids learnt, about the risks they didn’t know about, and what a great service you deliver.

Repetitive breath holding is an issue. Shallow water black out hasn’t had a lot of air time in Australia but I think it’s probably a bigger beast than we know. It is difficult to effectively ban breathe holding… kids are going to do it and they do it. We currently use some of our learn to swim time to talk about safe swimming environments, parental supervision and sunscreen. When do we talk about shallow water blackout? A mermaid lesson would be a great time to teach kids about the risks of repetitive breath holding and how to manage it.

Like all hazards, we should manage the risk. With Mermaid Tails we jumped straight to ‘eliminate the hazard’. And, it’s effective, but only a for a localised result. It hasn’t eliminated the risk for our communities. The risk has been transferred to locations with more hazards, less supervision and kids with a low level of skill and understanding.

Mermaid Tails can be dangerous, just like many other water devices. And, there’s something we could do about that. Otherwise all that’s out there to educate people is one viral video. I was interested to recently see on social media, Royal Life Saving Western Australia inviting young girls to bring their Mermaid Tails down to a local pool to take part in some research. It’s on someone’s radar.

In New Zealand they have pools where bombing is allowed at designated times, in designated areas. There are centres with purpose built bombing pools! There are so many centres with wave pools, lazy rivers, paddle boats, diving boards and Tarzan ropes. They are packed to overflowing because they have things that draw kids and families. Their kids have an opportunity to develop better skills and a better understand of risk because of these activities. Do we have a single Tarzan rope in an Australian pool?

So, who’s up for a Mermaid Party?

Here’s an example of a message that could be more helpful, and is definitely more fun, than the one we’re currently communicating.