Before you pack your hat, sunscreen and cell phone as you gear up to head off to the beach this summer, make sure you download the free app from nongovernmental organization Safe Water Sports, which provides crucial information to make a day at more that 3,000 Greek beaches a safe one.
“The app lists all of the businesses that are licensed to rent out watersports equipment or provide related services in the country, as well, of course, as the current legislation pertaining to these activities,” noted Dr Panagiotis Paschalakis, the head of the NGO, at a recent press conference. “So far, the Shipping Ministry has issued licenses for 200 to 250 of the existing 700 watersports businesses, but the numbers change every day.”
Paschalakis founded Safe Water Sports in 2015 after the tragic death of his 10-year-old son at a beach on the holiday island of Myconos. The objective of the NGO, which receives funding from the Latsis Foundation and National Bank of Greece, is to root out and highlight infringements of watersports laws and also to create a safety net for children and adults engaging in such activities at the country’s beaches.
“No one should kid themselves and feel invincible, even those of us who are good swimmers and athletes,” said the head of Greece’s water polo team and bronze world medalist Christos Afroudakis at the press conference, reminding the public of the death of champion swimmer Nontas Samartzidis while spear-fishing in 1996.
The NGO and certification firm TUV Austria Hellas have jointly created a private protocol for inspecting regulation compliance and quality standards at watersports equipment and service rental businesses.
“Six businesses have so far requested inspection and certification, and we are hoping that they will become ambassadors to convince others to do likewise,” said Paschalakis. He also urged members of the public who use such services to demand that all safety and professional standards are met, to be critical of the services and to report any infringements. “You have more power than you think,” he stressed.
The NGO worked with the Hellenic Coast Guard to train 20,000 students in the rules of watersports last year, while this year it hopes to reach out to 70,000 students at 500 elementary and middle schools, as well as 30,000 parents in a program that will be receiving funding from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for the next two years.
Planning ahead, Paschalakis is designing new campaigns, such as the creation of board and electronic games based on the NGO’s subject, the establishment of a new marine traffic code and improvements to existing legislation. Other than preventing watersports-related accidents (which the NGO says stand at around 50,000 a year in Europe as a whole), the tools provided by Safe Water Sports are also valuable to tourism in Greece, according to its champions.