If the weather today fulfils the forecast beaches around New Zealand will be full. Not all of them will have lifeguards and on those that do, not everyone will be swimming between the flags. Many of us think we can swim well enough to save ourselves if we get in a rip. Many of us are wrong.

In Wednesday's Herald the chairman of Swimming NZ, Bruce Cotterill, wrote: "Swimming across the school pool is a different proposition to swimming 100m in moving water." That is a fact some of us learn the hard way.

It is all too easy to find yourself in moving water. Sea currents are seldom obvious to the untrained eye. It is to dive from a boat or drift into a beach rip and not to notice until you are some distance from the boat or beach and finding it very difficult to get back. As your energy flags it is hard not to panic and make your predicament worse.

Every summer people are drowned in this way and others around New Zealand. Many more lives would be lost were it not for volunteer lifeguards. They are the unpaid heroes of our holidays, always appealing for more public funds, seldom receiving enough for the level of service they would like to provide.

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Their services include teaching life saving skills at school camps, which enabled a year 10 pupil to save a friend at Pt Chevalier beach in an incident we report today. More of us need those skills and even more of us need to be able to swim strongly. If you can't, take extra care at the beach and stay alive.