The hazards of sea currents cannot be stressed too strongly at this time of year.
Many will have read about the near-tragedy described in the Weekend Herald and found it a valuable reminder of how wary swimmers and boaties need to be.
Jesse Drake, of Titirangi, was out on the Manukau Harbour in his new 7m boat with his 5-year-old son, Taten. He anchored at the edge of a channel 800m of Cornwallis Beach, planning to start fishing. The boy took off his lifejacket to use the on-board toilet and when he returned he tumbled off the back of the boat.
His father dived in to rescue him but once his son was in his arms the current had carried them 10m from the boat and swimming as hard as he could in the circumstances, Drake soon realised the wind and current would prevent him getting them back to the boat. He had strength of mind, fortunately, to give up the attempt, conserve his physical strength and go with the current.
What followed was a 40-minute nightmare in freezing water, trying his utmost to keep the terrified child calm and keep both their heads above water. The boy was unconscious by the time Drake managed to attract the attention of kayakers and they were taken to the shore. The child was rushed to hospital by the Westpac rescue helicopter and his life was saved.
Their lucky escape carries many lessons, not least the risks of taking off a lifejacket, even briefly for a good reason. But it is also a useful illustration of how dangerous even a slight current can be. Sea currents are not like the flow of a river, they are not always obvious from an anchored boat on a sunny day in calm water not far from shore.
It might not be until the holidaymaker has dived off the boat, enjoyed a swim and decides to return to the boat that the impossibility becomes apparent. At that point, another hazard comes into play. Jesse Drake, an experienced diver and boatie, did not try to fight the current for too long. Many would not have his mental control.
Everyone has heard or read the water safety advice that when caught in a rip you should raise your hand for help and go with the flow rather than fight it. But that is easier to say than to do. The beach or the boat seems not far away, the natural human urge is to try your utmost to reach it. You swim for all you are worth, you think you have the strength, you give it everything you have and you look up to find you are no closer.
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You panic. You know you have to control your mind now, it's not easy. You have to tell yourself that your own mind is now the greatest threat to your life. If you can stay calm, stay afloat and drift, you can survive. If you panic and exhaust your strength, you probably will not.
Drownings at beaches around New Zealand are almost a daily occurrence in the summer holidays. The sun is shining, the water is warm, the sea looks calm. But be always aware of the current and no matter how gently it seems to be moving you, take care. And if it gets the better of you, keep your head.