First surf lifesaving patrols of the year in Northern Region signal a busy season ahead

After another winter of growing callouts and rescue taskings, the weekend has marked an early beginning to the 2022-2023 patrol season by Surf Life Saving Northern Region (SLSNR). Chief Executive Matt Williams says there is an indication that once again SLSNR has all the hallmarks of a busy season ahead.

The first rescue of the season during patrol hours was undertaken by lifeguards at Muriwai beach, the only club with active patrols ahead of Labour Weekend. Guards at the club rescued a surfer in distress near the rocks at the southern end of the beach. An IRB was dispatched to retrieve the surfer, who had gotten caught in a rip.

There were also some lucky beachgoers at Raglan in Waikato who were rescued while 30 lifeguards were completing pre-season skill refreshers on the beach. The club was not actively patrolling at the time; however, lifeguards rescued a 12-year-old female and a 15-year-old male who had gotten into trouble in the water while parents were supervising on the shore.

In all cases, those rescued left the beach in a stable condition, if not a little wiser about the dangers of Aotearoa New Zealand’s coastlines.

Those clubs not already patrolling or training at the beach also found themselves tasked as multiple Search and Rescue responses were signalled.

The first was for a boat flip at Karioitahi Beach just before 8am, with lifeguards who had arrived at the club for training spotting an upturned vessel north of the club. An IRB was launched to investigate, before the two people from the boat were located safe and well on the shore.

The club also dispatched its Search & Rescue squad to investigate a motorcycle accident north of the surf club, however they were stood down when the rider left the scene.

Williams said this was not an atypical weekend for Surf Life Saving and reflected the emerging trend of the public and emergency sector placing a growing demand for services on the organisation, and the need to ensure this did not take an adverse toll on their volunteer lifeguards and support staff.

He praised the guards who participated in rescues and was pleased that practices of ensuring equipment and lifeguards were ‘rescue ready’ for the season also ensured they were in the right place, at the right time to save lives this weekend.

“While the official lifeguarding season at most of New Zealand’s patrolled beaches will begin on Labour Weekend, there’s certainly been no ‘off button’ over the winter months,” he says.

“Our ‘lifesaving blueprint’ has predicted our beaches are getting busier, earlier and one of our key three year strategic priorities has been to resource the organisation to be prepared for this across all of its dimensions.

“All of our preseason deliverables have suggested we have been successful in our preparations, and my heartfelt thanks goes out to Surf Life Saving Volunteers, regional staff and our commercial partners, funders and supporters for the huge role they have played in this,” continues Williams.

“Not only are we well prepared for the traditional summer season, but we have been largely successful in providing the needed services year-round and to ensure our organisation has developed the capacity and capability to deliver.

“Public behaviours on the coastline will play no small part in our success this year and we will back reiterating our common-sense messages in the build up to summer.”

Williams is urging the public to remain vigilant in and around the water and emphasises the importance of making safe decisions at beaches throughout the rest of Spring.

“Keep it safe, keep it smart, and stay within your limits. Be sure to watch out for rip currents that can carry you away from shore, be smart around rocks, don’t overestimate your ability in the water, and never swim or surf alone”, he says.

“If you spot anyone in trouble in the water, call 111, and ask police for the Surf Lifeguards. This will activate the local Search and Rescue squad.”

“Work with the lifeguards when you see them out and about, they’re not just there for rescues, so please engage with them when you get to the beach if you have any questions or suggestions. The more we work together the better the summer will be.

“Most importantly, if you are visiting an actively-patrolled beach, always swim between the flags.”

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