Call to question swimming ability before entering the surf

Thursday, 14 January 2016

With a large number of Kiwis continuing to enjoy the coastline during their summer holidays, lifeguards are calling for people to question their swimming ability before entering the surf. 

Surf Life Saving New Zealand national lifesaving manager Allan Mundy says the beach-going public need to understand that their perceived swimming ability might not be enough to save themselves if they get into difficulty in the surf.

"Knowing how to swim is not enough - you also need a good level of fitness to successfully get out of a rip and/or cope with big waves knocking you around, he says.

"Unless you've been swimming distances regularly, then you can't consider yourself safe swimming in moderate to large seas, away from patrolled areas. Being in a rip means you have to be able to swim in deep water for an extended period of time and you also have to remember that a series of big waves can keep you pinned underwater for up to a minute. If you can't hold your breath that long, you should not be going into the surf in those conditions."

Of the 10 drownings that took place during the official holiday period, six were in non-patrolled coastal locations. These took the provisional 2015 annual toll up to 23 beach drownings, more than double the 2014 total of 11.

Mr Mundy says these drownings took place due to a number of different factors but the one thing they had in common was that they weren't at patrolled locations.

"All beaches are dangerous in their own right and the beaches we patrol still have an element of risk. But the difference is, there are lifeguards on hand to keep an eye on swimmers, provide advice to avoid problems occurring and the ability to rescue someone much faster if required."

Mr Mundy says if people are swimming in areas where they can't see the red and yellow flags, then the odds are, lifeguards can't see them. "If you choose to swim by yourself or at a remote location, it will take that much longer for help to arrive," he says.

Last season, lifeguards carried out over 400,000 preventative actions at around 80 patrolled locations nationwide, meaning swimmers stayed safe while enjoying their day out at the beach.

"For every drowning, there are thousands more preventative actions that take place to prevent people from getting to the point of needing rescue in the first place. Lifeguards are constantly working the beach and on the lookout for potential danger, which is our most important role," he says.

Lifeguards' training also gives them the ability to undertake first aid treatment and help out with specialised search and rescue operations in and out of the water.

During the Christmas holidays, lifeguards at Tairua dealt with a patient who had suffered a serious head injury, two patients with spinal injuries and a heart attack all within four hours.

Mr Mundy says lifeguards treated the heart attack victim for an hour and administered the defibrillator four times. Once stabilised, the head and spinal patients were transported to hospital by ambulance and rescue helicopter.

"That was four lives saved in a short space of time, and it could have been a different story if those patients weren't at a patrolled beach that day," he says.

To find your nearest patrolled beach visit

For more information, please contact:

Lisa Smith, Media & Communications Specialist, SLSNZ
Phone 09 303 9335 or 0276 488 823