This summer NZME is helping Surf Life Saving New Zealand to help save lives. The charity relies on the goodwill of thousands of volunteers, fundraising, grants and sponsorship to keep our beaches patrolled. Here's your chance to help raise money for new equipment and lifeguard training.
Reporter Laurel Stowell went to the beach to see first hand how Whanganui's surf life savers work.
Swimmers at Whanganui's Morgan St beach are in danger of being hit by a stray surfboard or swept away by a rip, Whanganui Surf Lifeguard Service spokesman Phil Gilmore says.
In this "indifferent" summer of westerly winds and hazy skies he's asking parents to stop their children swimming there, and at the Wharf St slipway.
Morgan St's beach is probably one of the most dangerous spots on the coastline, he said, with boards getting loose from surfers, and a lot of rips running down its side.
And he predicts a tragedy if children continue swimming at the Wharf St slipway while boats come in and out.
He's warning against swimming at the south end of Kai Iwi Beach near the cliffs. Last summer nearly 10 people were dragged south around the cliffs by currents and had to be rescued.
On January 1 there were more than 15 people who went into the water there wearing shirts and trousers.
"They didn't realise they were entering very strong currents from the high tides and nearby streams, with multiple rips across the beach. Combined with swimming in clothes that was a recipe for disaster."
His top advice on beach safety is to swim at patrolled beaches and between the flags.
Fire crew complete a textbook cliffside rescue
Also, never swim alone, and if in doubt, stay out of the water.
Generally the beach behaviour of Whanganui people is "pretty good", Gilmore said.
"We have been doing this professionally here for about 25 years and we have educated the public through schools."
The swimming season is in full swing and there will be teams of four lifeguards on duty at Castlecliff and Kai Iwi beaches from noon to 6pm every day until March 1.
There are about 15 lifeguards here this summer. They train voluntarily and are tested to New Zealand qualification standard. When qualified they are paid the minimum wage for the hours they are rostered.
This summer their supervisor is Dean Ngatoa, who is from Piha in West Auckland.
Some days the lifeguards have been flying the "don't swim" red flag, with beaches closed by strong winds and fast-moving currents. They use those days to tell the public about surrounding dangers.
When the Chronicle visited Kai Iwi Beach at Mowhanau on a hot and breezy day the surf was half a metre high and the tide was near full.
The lifeguard flags were only 25m apart, in the area by the car park and lifeguard lookout tower. Two lifeguards were in the tower, and two down on the beach.
Patrol leader for the day was Rory Futter, who moved to Whanganui from Auckland in November 2018. He's been a lifeguard for 10 years, and works part-time here to fill in gaps.
"I just joined because it's important to try and do something in the community. You have always got to spend a few hours a year giving back," he said.
In Auckland he used to patrol Bethells Beach on the wild west coast, and Kai Iwi is much quieter and tamer. In 10 years he's seen "heaps of dramatic stuff", including body searches.
"The most horrible thing is body searches, when people that you have seen go under and you can't find them."
People were staying between the flags at Kai Iwi, and behaviour was good.
"It's good to see all those parents down there watching their kids swim, because we are not a babysitters," Futter said.
A calmer patch to the north showed where a rip was, outside the flagged area. One boy had an inner tube but was within the flags and, with a northwest wind blowing inshore, was in no danger of being blown out to sea.
Lifeguards will close a beach if they don't feel comfortable with conditions, Futter said. If people still choose to swim, or to swim outside the flags, they can't stop them.
"Our key priority is the flagged area. If they're outside the flags we go and speak to them and ask them to come in between the flags. Sometimes people don't know what [the flags] are for, if they from a different country or have never been to the beach."
At Kai Iwi the lifeguards on the beach and the lifeguards in the lookout tower each have a radio. The tower has a view of the whole beach, and also first aid gear. The patrol's inflatable rescue boat (IRB) is in a shed and can be launched quickly.
Lifeguards know the signs of a swimmer in trouble, Futter said. They might be striking out for the shore and letting waves wash over their heads.
"They're panicking, just trying to get to shore, not diving under waves."
Or they could be flailing wildly with their arms to keep their head above water - this what lifeguards call "climbing the ladder".
They are told to raise a hand if they want help - but seldom do.
"Every time I have rescued someone they haven't had their hand up," Futter said.
The raised hand is one of the "three Rs" to remember if you are being carried out to sea by a rip.
First, relax and float, second, raise your hand and third, ride the rip - let it carry you.
GIVEAWAY: Between the flags, the story of 50,000 lives saved. Hardcopy book showcasing a century of surf life saving - Tell us your story and go in the draw to win a copy. Email email@example.com with the subject line SLS.