With two drownings in less than a week at popular, unpatrolled spots in Hawke's Bay, an urgent safety plea has been issued by water safety organisations.
On Sunday evening a man drowned at Waimarama beach after being caught in a flash rip, after patrols had ended. Days earliermother Amy Brown drowned in a Haumoana lagoon after trying to rescue two children.
In both instances the victims were swimming in unpatrolled areas.
Yesterday Surf Lifesaving New Zealand national lifesaving and education manager Allan Mundy stressed how important it was for people to swim in areas being monitored by lifeguards, and to remain between the flags.
Lifeguards were constantly monitoring the conditions, were able to spot any dangers and take action much faster than those in the water, he said.
At this time of year they were noticing the real danger for beachgoers were small swells coupled with warm water.
People tended to spend more time in warm water, while smaller swells made the water appear safer but often disguised "uncharacteristically strong rips".
"We're seeing a lot of people getting caught out by underestimating the conditions".
In such conditions, Mr Mundy said, parents needed to ensure they swam with their children, and kept them within arm's reach: "They could be just two or three metres away, but they could get caught in currents going in different directions."
Before entering any waterway, people needed to ensure they were ready should disaster strike, said Dr Jonathon Webber of Drowning Prevention Auckland, a Water Safe New Zealand partner organisation.
This included checking the conditions before entering, having cellphones on hand, keeping an eye on people in the water and knowing how to react if someone got in trouble.
If swimmers realised they were in trouble, Dr Webber said, the most important thing to do was resist the urge to swim against the flow of water as this saps energy. Instead, they should signal for help, and go with the current. When close to shore, they should swim parallel to the waves which would wash them onshore.
Beachgoers also needed to be able to recognise if someone was in distress, because they often could not call out.
People in such situations would typically face the shore and look distressed. If a beach goer called out to see if they were okay, they would not be able to respond. People with long hair would not be bothering to push this out of their face.
Rescuers should assess risks, and only enter the water if they had some form of floatation to ensure they too did not get into trouble. Providing something that could float -"whether it's a chilly bin or a boogie board" - interrupted the drowning process and gave rescuers time to plan and call emergency services.
Five Hawke's Bay beaches are patrolled seven days a week by lifeguards during summer -
Waipatiki, Ocean, Waimarama, West Shore and Pacific beaches.
WaterSafe New Zealand recommend doing the '4Rs' if someone is in trouble in the water
Notice someone in trouble.
Check for danger.
Send for help (Call 111 – Police)
Reassess safety of people and scene.
Rescue from land or craft is safest.
Rescue in water – non-contact is safest.
Take flotation if entering the water.
If person is not breathing normally, start CPR.
If breathing, put in recovery position.
Stay with person until help arrives.