Surf rescues on the increase

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Sunset Beach lifeguard Samantha-Jane taking preventative action as she moves two men out of a rip. Photograph: Glennys Smith
Sunset Beach lifeguard Samantha-Jane taking preventative action as she moves two men out of a rip. Photograph: Glennys Smith

More than 1,300 mothers, fathers, sons and daughters made it out of the water safely this year due to the extra lengths lifeguards are going to keep their fellow New Zealanders safe.

The latest Surf Lifesaving New Zealand (SLSNZ) statistics show that the number of rescues carried out last season throughout New Zealand has increased by 27 per cent. That’s 276 individual rescues more than the previous season, bringing the total number of NZ beach rescues for the 2014-15 season to 1,310.

These statistics don’t take into account the 115,494 preventative actions, searches, or first aid administered by guards. Nor any of the extra rescues carried out in the off-season. All of which have also increased 36 per cent on last seasons total of 85,063.

SLSNZ CEO Paul Dalton says, “Saving over 1,300 lives this summer is something for our lifeguards to be truly proud of. We also need to remember that on top of that lifeguards prevented thousands more from getting to the point of needing to be rescued.”

The number of beach goers who put themselves into unnecessary danger is steadily increasing, with a large number of rescues taking place outside of the flagged areas and after patrol hours.

Ethan Cox from Trust Waikato’s Whiritoa Surf Lifesaving Club stresses the importance and need for more public education as an effective preventative measure.

Whiritoa is a small east coast beach just south of Whangamata and although it looks harmless at times, it is known as one of the more dangerous beaches in NZ. Those getting into trouble in the water are more often than not unfamiliar with the territory and surf conditions.

The annual ‘Drown Base’ statistics for NZ this year show that as of the July 8, 2015, 64 people have drowned. More than half of these drownings having taken place in rivers, beaches and tidal waters. However, this time last year the toll sat at only 47. In January alone eight of these drownings took place at unpatrolled beaches.

“If we could undertake more preventative actions that would be awesome. Even basic things like access way notice boards in different languages that have warnings and information specific to each beach,” says Cox, 24. “It would also be great to be able to set up more patrols at beaches who don’t yet have them. Although that would mean more government funding is needed.”

SLSNZ key beach safety messages:

  • Always keep a very close eye on children in or near the water.
  • Get a friend to swim with you – never swim or surf alone.
  • Watch out for that rip – rips are calm, deep patches of water close to shore that can sometimes have waves breaking to the side. Rippled, discoloured or foamy water with debris can also mean there is a rip present.
  • Don’t overestimate you or your children’s ability to cope in the conditions. Even waist deep water can be life threatening if you step in a hole or get hit by a large wave. Preferably be in the water next to them at all times on a surf beach.
  • If you’re away from home, check with the locals and ask them about the conditions and the safest place to swim.
  • If in doubt, stay out!

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