A_JS290120NADMANG020.JPG The Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguard Service had one of the busiest seasons in terms of incidents in Northland this summer. Photo / File
Northland volunteer surf lifeguards wrapped up their season this Easter weekend having prevented more than 18,000 people from getting into trouble at beaches around the region.
And with patrols finished for the summer, lifeguards are warning people to take extreme care at unmanned beaches during the off-season.
Northland lifeguards from Far North Surf Rescue (Ahipara), Mangawhai Heads Volunteer Lifeguard Service, Ruakākā Surf Life Saving Patrol, Waipū Cove Surf Life Saving Club, Whangārei Heads Volunteer Surf Life Saving Patrol (Ocean Beach), and Surf Life Saving Baylys Beach collectively saved a total of 29 lives, assisted 52 people to shore, searched for 26 people, gave emergency first aid to 28 and minor first aid to 110 people.
They also performed 3763 preventative actions stopping 18,191 people getting into trouble. Overall they have volunteered 12,330 hours to patrols to keep beach-goers safe.
John-Michael Swannix, Surf Life Saving Northern Region search and rescue supervisor, said the three busiest beaches for incidents during patrol hours were Mangawhai Heads, Waipū Cove, and Ocean Beach in Whangārei Heads.
"Whangārei Heads has had the busiest Emergency Callout Squad – which is especially interesting considering this is the squad's first active season," Swannix said.
Northland has six Emergency Callout Squads (ECOS) with Baylys Beach near Dargaville establishing a squad in time for Easter weekend.
ECOS service the region for all surf life saving related callout operations, including search and rescue missions, out of patrol hours and even at unpatrolled beaches. Squad members are volunteers hand-picked due to their advanced surf life saving skills.
"It's great to see Baylys Beach, with support from Ruakākā, now able to respond to more incidents at both Baylys Beach and Ripiro."
Swannix said the region's squads have done incredible work this season as they responded to 33 callouts and were actively involved in 20 of these incidents.
Far North ECOS saved the lives of two men and six dogs when they rescued them from a tractor during the floods this summer. Whangārei Heads ECOS saved nine lives and recovered three bodies from separate incidents in the area involving a male diver in Urquhart's Bay, and two men - one at McLeod Bay and another at Ocean Beach.
Waipū Cove ECOS were also kept busy as they saved the life of a kayaker whose vessel was sinking 1km off Waipū Rivermouth; and another man found unconscious in the water of Waipū Estuary after he hit his head falling down a rockface.
In Mangawhai Heads, ECOS saved six lives including four rock fishers trapped by rising tides and two girls swept into a deep inshore hole.
"In Northland this season lifeguards were kept extremely busy," Swannix said. "What is most noticeable is that lifeguards have kept more than 18,000 people from getting in trouble in the water."
He said without guards patrolling popular Northland beaches drowning statistics could be much worse.
"We really appreciate everyone who came out to the beach this summer who listened to the lifeguards and made sure to swim between the flags."
With guards hanging up their fins for the season - except for some potential observational patrols where guards are present on the beaches or events like training but no flags are present - Swannix urged the public to take care.
"The main thing is to never go swimming or surfing alone, always make sure there is someone on the beach or nearby who can go for help."
His other advice was to always swim where the waves were breaking evenly - a calm spot could indicate a rip - and know your limits.
"If you see someone in trouble immediately dial 111 and ask for surf lifeguards," Swannix said.
Northland has the highest drowning rate in the country, with middle-aged men most at risk.
The Beach & Coastal Safety Report, issued by Surf Life Saving NZ (SLSNZ), shows that Northland's eight deaths was the highest rate in the country last year at 4.22 fatal drownings per 100,000 people. This compared with the national average of 0.85 per 100,0000 people and 0.77 for Auckland.
Northland's drowning rate for the last 10 years was 3.04 per 100,000 people. Over that decade 81 per cent of the 57 drownings were men, about half aged 45 and older.