New Zealand’s 5,200 strong volunteer surf lifeguard force is ready to tackle another summer by raising the iconic red and yellow flags at key spots around the country this weekend, marking the official season start of this essential emergency service.
While most beaches don’t raise their flags until November, the traditional beginning of the Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) season is Labour Weekend and surf lifeguards are encouraging people to take their safety advice on board this long weekend, and dial 111 (Police) if you think you can see someone in trouble.
“Your first option is to swim between the flags at a lifeguarded beach. It is absolutely the safest place for you to swim, so you should always do that if possible,” said SLSNZ National Lifesaving Manager, Allan Mundy.
“However, if the flags aren’t an option and you’re heading out this weekend, make sure you follow our safety advice but call 111 and ask for Police if you do see anyone in trouble. Even though the flags may not be up, surf lifeguards are often already in your community and can respond quickly with help from the Police,” Mr Mundy continued.
While the flags will start to appear from Saturday, volunteer surf lifeguards have not stopped since dropping the flags at the end of last summer, clocking up over 100,000 hours of training, upskilling courses and exams over winter and responding to multiple call-out missions.
Last season, surf lifeguards put in over 230,000 patrol hours on the beach resulting in over 1,062 life-threatening rescues while helping another 2,375 people out of a potentially dangerous situation.
That means over 3,000 New Zealander’s made it home thanks to surf lifeguards, and this year, they want to make sure every Kiwi makes it home from a day at our beautiful beaches.
Rip currents are the main cause of rescues performed at a beach, and Mr Mundy encouraged people to learn how to spot them before getting in the water. Often they appear as regions of deeper, darker water with less wave breaking activity between areas of white water, or a patch of surface water that is rippled or bumpy with criss-crossed waves compared to areas either side of this section of water.
“Remember, if you’re unsure that what you’re looking at is a rip, don’t get in the water. If in doubt, stay out,” he said.
“But if you do get into a rip, it’s important to stay calm, relax and float. The rip current will not pull you under, and nor will it take you out to sea. It may take you a little way out but often the water will circulate and bring you into shallower water where you can stand up. Just stick your hand up, and either a surf lifeguard will get you, or someone will call 111 and get help to you. At this time of year, you can last a long time floating on your back in the surf,” he explained.
This time of year also marks the start of SLSNZ’s Beach Education programmes, which last year educated over 30,000 Kiwi kids on how to stay safe at the beach.
“Education is the key to prevention,” said Mundy. “If we can teach our children how to keep safe and also what to do if they do get in trouble, that will undoubtedly help reduce the coastal drowning toll over the years to come, so it’s incredibly important work for us.”
SLSNZ CEO Paul Dalton echoes Mr Mundy’s advice and adds he wishes everyone a safe and happy summer.
“We are incredibly fortunate to live in a country where our beaches are our best playground, but please ensure you get home safely by following our safety tips and listening to the advice of surf lifeguards.
“SLSNZ is also proud of all the surf lifeguards who give up hundreds of hours of their own time over the year to keep the public safe, and we want to thank them for that,” he added.
SLSNZ Beach Safety Messages
If you would like to support SLSNZ this summer, make a donation online at www.surflifesaving.org.nz.
Alana McIsaac, Media & Communications Manager
Phone 027 515 7157