Summer strain on lifeguards

By John Cousins, Kiri Gillespie


Bay lifeguards saved nearly twice as many people from drowning over summer compared with the previous summer.

During the official lifeguard season to date, 212 people were rescued from the surf on the seven patrolled beaches between Waihi Beach and Pukehina.

This compared with 124 last summer.

These and other figures for the seven Bay surf clubs - including hours worked and preventative actions - have been provided to the Bay of Plenty Times.

Most surf life saving patrols have finished for the season, except at Omanu, Papamoa and Waihi Beach where lifeguards will work their final season shift this weekend.

Mount Maunganui lifeguards performed the most rescues, pulling 55 people out of the surf, with Omanu and Papamoa not far behind.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand said the long spells of hot weather and much bigger surf were the main reasons for the increase in rescues and preventative actions by paid and volunteer lifeguards.

Eastern regional lifeguard advisory committee chairman Allan Mundy told the Bay of Plenty Times the summer was one of the best for beach-goers in living memory, resulting in extreme numbers of people on the beach, he said.

"Last year we were severely affected by Rena. That kept a lot of people off the beach early on. Also, we had a lot more surf days [this year] and with that, we had a lot more rips."

Mr Mundy said there had been several "hairy" rescues over summer performed by junior lifeguards training after hours.

"Those definitely would have been fatalities."

At Papamoa Surf Life Saving Club, captain Wayne Lambert said weather was mostly consistent "except for a few gnarly patches where it wasn't and it could be really bad, particularly for rescues".

The club performed 50 rescues in the first two weeks of the year compared to 28 for the same period the year before.

"We were involved in a lot of incidents outside the flags and after hours where one of our guys just happened to be on the beach when someone got in trouble.

"We had one call to our emergency service squad to assist for the poor chap who died in the harbour at Omokoroa."

Eastern region's manager for programmes and services Mike Lord said Papamoa was particularly rippy and wavy.

"There were a lot more preventative actions because of the hot weather - the beaches were used a lot more," he said.

Mr Lord said there was still a lot of work to do despite better awareness among swimmers of how to stay safe.

Lifeguards were noticing that people were getting into trouble really quickly because a lot of them were not good swimmers, he said.

They might be able to swim a couple of lengths of a pool but it was completely different in a marine environment.

"They don't understand getting out of their depth."


 

- Bay of Plenty Times

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