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Weekday lifesaving patrols start today at Auckland and Waikato beaches

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Higher than normal numbers of beach-users over the past two weeks has resulted in a spate of drownings and near misses, prompting Surf Lifesaving Northern Region to pull forward weekday patrols on several key beaches from today.

Three people have died and 99 others have been rescued this month, running the region’s volunteer lifeguard service to the brink of exhaustion.

When compared to the same period in 2020, the past month has seen a spike of 300 per cent more serious incident activity, and a more than 600 per cent increase in rescues.

In addition to Muriwai, Piha and Raglan, weekday patrols will now be in place at Bethells, Karekare, Kariaotahi and Sunset Beaches between 11am and 7pm. The date has been brought forward to this week from mid-December due to these beaches having had a recent drowning or close-call.

Surf Life Saving Northern Region CEO Matt Williams says bringing forward weekday patrols by the region’s paid lifeguard service is a necessary and essential step to stem the current drowning toll following the recent tragedies.

"We are seeing beach-user numbers higher than what we’d usually see in the peak summer period before summer has even begun," says Williams. "This past weekend alone our teams worked nearly 2000 hours and the peak headcount reached nearly 12,000.

"With sunny weather, decent swells, warm water temperatures and outgoing tides more people are on the beaches, meaning a corresponding rise in the number of serious incidents. As a comparison, a quarter of our annual rescues were performed over a small window of time last week."

"While weekday patrols are usually funded whole by Auckland Council, the additional costs we are incurring to extend the service length are out of budget and significant," Williams continues. "They are certainly being felt by the organisation amid a financial year that has already been troubled by financial turmoil and revenue volatility related to COVID-19 and the prolonged Auckland lockdowns."

"Financially this is not a decision we have taken lightly and it is easily justified when you know it is going to save lives. It is the most sensible course of action available to prevent further tragedy."

On Tuesday 16 November, a person was recovered unconscious from the water by lifeguards at Bethells Beach in Auckland. CPR was performed but the person could not be revived. On Sunday 21 November, a man was able to be revived by lifeguards performing CPR at Karekare Beach before being airlifted to hospital. He was recovered unconscious from the water by off-duty lifeguards after they’d packed up patrol for the day.

On Tuesday 23 November, two people were rescued and the body of another person was recovered from the water at Kariaotahi. Lifeguards performed CPR but the person was declared dead by paramedics. Later that evening, seven people were rescued by lifeguards at Sunset Beach after being swept out in a rip.

On Saturday 27 November, 12 people were rescued by lifeguards with a further 15 assisted to safety, eight at Muriwai alone. One 20-year-old male motorbike rider was ejected onto the sand after a crash, sustaining a suspected broken collar bone. Ambulance assisted him and let him travel to the hospital in a friends car.

On Sunday 28 November there were a total of 52 preventative actions involving 429 members of the public, with all beaches experiencing a high headcount. One search was carried out at Hamilton’s Gap, Awhitu for 3 members of public swept out 500m to sea. One IRB, one Ute and one RWC responded to the incident from Kariaotahi. Police Eagle and Westpac were also dispatched. Once Kariaotahi resources were on scene, all resources were stood down.

Williams has acknowledged the ongoing strong support of Surf Life Saving Northern Region sponsors and community and gaming funders but can recognise that they are having a tough time too.

"Our partners and funders are working as hard to fund us as we are, but they are also being impacted by COVID-19 volatility and have less to give than they would normally like to.

"Now more than ever we need the support of the public, to help us keep them safe on our beaches", he says.

"You just need to look at the difference when we have lifeguards on the beach and when we don’t. The person who was found unconscious in the water at Karekare on Sunday was able to be brought back because lifeguards were on the scene so quickly."

"The deaths at Bethells and Kariaotahi last week occurred when there were no lifeguards around, and even though our Search and Rescue Squads were on the scene very quickly, it’s those crucial few minutes that can save a life and dramatically improve the quality of life for a rescued patient. Literally every second counts."

"The lifeguards are trained to prevent incidents from happening. By having a flagged area and warning people of rips, holes and other hazards we’re able to stop people from getting into trouble in the first place and it is equally as important they provide education as our most valuable long term tool in addressing the coastal drowning issue."

Williams says the decision was also about ensuring the well-being of their volunteers.

"Members of our Search and Rescue squads live in these areas and are seeing people getting into dangerous situations all the time throughout the week," he says.

"When you’re on-call 24/7 it can be hard to switch off, so knowing that there are lifeguards at these beaches will help give them a bit of a breather."

The good news is supporting Surf Life Saving Northern Region is easy. Direct funding can be donated through this Givealittle link.

In these difficult times, you can also make contributions simply by doing your normal shopping, without any added cost at ShopGood. ShopGood lets you shop amazing products while also doing some good. Every item you buy delivers a donation to Surf Life Saving Northern Region. "Quality products for you, a generous donation for us. You shop, they give. It's that simple."

Beach Safety Messages

- Choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the flags - Read and understand the safety signs - ask a surf lifeguard for advice as

conditions can change regularly - Don’t overestimate your ability or your children’s ability to cope in the conditions - Always keep a close eye on very young children in or near the water - always keep them within arm’s reach

- Get a friend to swim with you - never swim or surf alone - Watch out for rip currents, they can carry you away from shore. If caught in a rip

current remember the 3Rs: -Relax and float, -Raise your hand and -Ride the rip - Be smart around rocks: When fishing never turn your back towards the sea and

always wear a lifejacket - If in doubt, stay out! - If you see someone in trouble, call 111 and ask for the Police - Be sun smart - slip, slop, slap and wrap to protect your skin and eyes from the sun’s damaging rays

November 2021 Statistics to date

- No. of rescues: 99 - No. of assists: 50

- No. Major First Aids: 15

- No. Searches: 19

- No. Fatalities: 3

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