The summer season is already off to a busy start for lifeguards around the country and with warm water temperatures being predicted over the Christmas holidays, the rescue service is bracing for a big couple of weeks.
The two week Christmas holiday period is always a busy one for Surf Life Saving in New Zealand as it's often the first chance people have to get out and enjoy the beach with friends and family.
Sadly, last year saw four people drown on Christmas Day alone. Since the Surf Life Saving patrol season began at Labour Weekend, there have been eight classified beach drownings versus two at the same time last year.
There will be more than 4,000 lifeguards on duty at over 80 beaches nationwide this festive season.
At every patrol location, lifeguards will assess the surf and tidal conditions and put up the flags at the safest part of the beach and will continue to move them throughout the day as conditions change.
Surf Life Saving New Zealand national lifesaving manager Allan Mundy says choosing a patrolled beach and swimming between the flags means lifeguards will be on hand if you get into trouble.
"If you can't see the red and yellow patrol flags, then our lifeguards can't see you, and it will take longer for help to arrive- and time is critical," he says.
Mr Mundy says Christmas, summertime and the beach go hand in hand for so many Kiwis.
"The beach is a beautiful place and we want people to come and enjoy themselves and leave with happy memories but personal responsibility also plays a large part. If people are heading to the beach these holidays, they need to know their limits and pick an appropriate beach, take the right swimwear, have a leash and fins for their boogie board, be sun smart and stay off the alcohol."
Surf safety tips:
• Choose a patrolled beach and swim between the flags
• Always keep a very close eye on children in or near the water. Don't overestimate you or your children's ability to cope in the conditions. Preferably be in the water next to them at all times on a surf beach.
• Get a friend to swim with you - never swim or surf alone.
• Watch out for that rip- rips are calm, deep patches of water close to shore that can sometimes have waves breaking to the side. Rippled, discoloured or foamy water with debris can also mean there is a rip present.
• Be smart around rocks: whether fishing or exploring at the beach, rocky outcrops can be very dangerous in large surf. When fishing, always wear a lifejacket. Never stand on a rock outcrop that is already wet (a sure sign waves will be washing over it) and always face the ocean; never turn your back on the sea.
• If in doubt, stay out!
• If you spot someone in trouble at an unpatrolled beach, ensure your own safety and dial 111 and ask for Police.
Lisa Smith, Media & Communications Manager,
Phone 0276 488 823