With Easter marking the official end to the patrol season, Surf Life Saving New Zealand is urging Kiwis to be cautious when swimming at an unpatrolled beach.
Traditionally, volunteer weekend patrols begin at Labour Weekend in October and continue through to Easter for most of the Northern Region and parts of the Eastern Region. In other parts of the country, where the weather is cooler, patrols have already ended.
Every year, lifeguards will spend over 200,000 hours patrolling around 80 beaches nationwide, rescuing on average 1,200 people- last year that number was over 1,600.
So far this season, surf lifeguards have spent over 200,000 hours patrolling New Zealand's beaches and have rescued over 1,070 people. With these provisional statistics showing rescues are well down on previous years, Surf Life Saving New Zealand CEO Paul Dalton attributes this to the poorer weather in comparison to last year's bumper summer season that was one of the busiest in years.
"The number of beach-goers has dropped significantly in most parts of the country. The inconsistent weather patterns that New Zealand has seen this summer, especially during the Christmas holidays, has meant less people have been heading to our beaches in comparison to last season. And naturally, with less people on the beaches, there is less chance of people getting into trouble," he says.
Water Safety New Zealand recorded one of the lowest drowning tolls on record for the 2013 year with 81 drownings- down from 98 in 2012. However, the number of drownings across the official summer period (December 1, 2013-February 28, 2014) increased from 31 to 35. None of these incidents were at a patrolled beach.
Mr Dalton says this season has seen a trend of would-be rescuers dying while trying to save a loved one. "What is concerning is that around 50% of the deaths at beaches were 'would-be' rescuers who perished while the person they went in to save managed to survive." It is something he is looking at closely, he says.
"We're constantly working towards lowering New Zealand's drowning rate and with patrols now coming to an end, we ask that people take responsibility for their own safety when around the water," he says.
When swimming at an unpatrolled beach, he encourages beach-goers to adhere to a few simple rules. Be prepared, watch out for yourself and others, be aware of the dangers and know your limits.
Please note, statistics for the full 2013/14 patrol season are being collated and will become available in May.
Some clubs (particularly in the Northern Region) may choose to extend their patrols on a case-by-case basis as a result of high visitor numbers and/or good weather.
Water Safety Tips:
- Always keep an eye on children in the water
- Get a friend to swim with you- never swim or surf alone
- Watch out for that rip… rips are calm patches of water that can sometimes have waves breaking to the side. Rippled, discoloured or foamy water with debris can also mean there is a rip present.
Lisa Honeybone, Media & Communications Specialist,
Phone 09 303 9335 or 0276 488 823