Five people have drowned at the beach since Christmas Day- three (or 150%) more than last Christmas- and Surf Life Saving New Zealand is calling for the public to start thinking more carefully about their own safety at beaches.
The essential rescue service has existed for over 100 years and the core message of swimming between the flags remains the same. CEO Paul Dalton says it is frustrating when the role of lifeguards turns to searching for bodies. "If people choose not to swim at a patrolled beach, they have to find out what risks they may be putting themselves, or their children, into and take practical steps to avoid them."
So far this holiday season, a fisherman died while setting crab pots at Ruakaka on Christmas Day, a teenager was swept out at 90 Mile beach, an intoxicated man drowned after he entered the water at New Brighton beach in Christchurch, a man died in the Patea River mouth while attempting to save a child and on Monday, a young boy died while swimming at the Waipu River mouth. The death of a surfer at Kariaotahi on Boxing Day has not yet been classified as a drowning as the cause of death has not been determined.
Mr Dalton says in many cases, people underestimate the conditions and therefore the risks. "What they perceive to be a safe place to swim isn't necessarily the case. Even waist deep water can be life threatening if you step in a hole or get hit by a large wave. Conditions can also change very quickly and unfortunately, it only takes an instant for a tragedy to occur. If people aren't familiar with a beach, they should always ask the locals who have the knowledge before they go into the water."
Across the official Christmas holiday period (4pm on Christmas Eve to 6am on January 5) there were seven drownings in total. Four at beaches plus a one year old who died in a temporary home pool on Christmas Day and two men who died when their fishing boat was swamped while crossing a harbour bar.
Mr Dalton says obviously the beach as well as the overall drowning toll is disappointing to us. The weather has been good and, naturally, visitor numbers increased which in turn increases the risk of people getting into trouble on our beaches.
"Hopefully this great weather will continue which means there's still plenty of opportunity for people to continue enjoying our coastlines in the coming months- but we don't want to see any more drownings taking place.
"The beach is New Zealand's favourite playground and we want to keep it that way. Learning about the risks and being prepared will mean we can all have a great summer," he says.
Since the patrol season officially began at Labour Weekend, lifeguards have undertaken over 300 rescues nationwide. Seventy of those have taken place in December and of those 70, 30 have taken place outside of patrol hours.
Check the beach conditions before leaving home and make sure if at all possible you are choosing a patrolled beach (details at www.findabeach.co.nz) where you can swim between the flags and feel safe in the knowledge that there are highly skilled lifeguards on hand.
For more information, please contact:
Lisa Honeybone, Media & Communications Specialist,
Phone 09 303 9335 or 0276 488 823