Beach patrols aimed at preventing drownings at a popular Northland surf destination need more volunteers to help promote safety messages.
The Bream Bay Beach Safety Ambassador programme is in its fourth season, set up after a rise in drownings on that stretch of coastline with three crab fishers drowning in four years. The programme aims to educate, in particular, an increasing number of Asians from Auckland catching paddle crabs.
In 2016 the team of ambassadors started to patrol the beach in a buggy allowing them to cover the 12km stretch of coast- from Ruakākā to the Waipū river mouth - quickly.
The last crabbing death was in November 2015 when a 35-year-old from Auckland drowned after he fell out of an inflatable boat about 400m from shore.
In January this year a 51-year-old Bream Bay man waded out to retrieve his fishing nets when it appeared he got into difficulty, at Ruakākā Beach, about 400m north of the Ruakākā race course, just after 7am.
Waipū Police Senior Constable Martin Geddes has been the major force behind the ambassador programme with support from a dedicated team of volunteers and community businesses.
"The key roles of the ambassador are around prevention and education. To assist with this we have safety pamphlets in Chinese, English and Korean," Geddes said.
"The hands on, personal approach is what makes this initiative work. Shift times are flexible and tailored to what a volunteer can contribute on any given day."
Cervus Equipment in Whangārei has again offered a beach gator, free of cost, for the programme which will allow the ambassadors to patrol the 8km of beach where the drownings commonly occur.
Ambassadors patrol the beach talking to groups and individuals, handing out pamphlets and advising on beach safety and etiquette.
"Since the patrols began we have seen a dramatic decrease in drowning and rescues involving crabbers," Geddes said.
A beach safety day run by Drowning Prevention Auckland on Saturday further reinforced safety at the beach and the dangers of the ocean.
About 60 people from Auckland and North Shore gathered on the beach off Uretiti, after it was identified crabbing was one of the highest, at-risk for drowning activities for the Asian community.
Geddes said the main message repeated throughout the day was: "Always wear a life jacket if you are going in the water."
"It's not worth dying for a crab or a fish. The most important message we could give is always wear a lifejacket, it just gives them a chance if they do get into trouble."
He said it was also important to teach those who frequented the beach to know their exact location, so if there was trouble a location could be given to emergency services and there was no delay in trying to find them.
Geddes said there was an increasing issue with vehicles on the beach travelling too fast.
He said the speed limit was 30km/h but there were vehicles travelling in excess of the speed limit.
Anyone wanting to become an ambassador can contact Brent Cooper at email@example.com or Senior Constable Martin Geddes at firstname.lastname@example.org