Holiday period over but beaches still busy for lifeguards

For Surf Lifesaving Northern Region

It may be back to work and school for most Kiwis but lifeguards are expecting the country’s beaches to remain busy until Easter. With great summer weather drawing people to popular beaches, Surf Life Saving Northern Region (SLSNR) CEO Matt Williams says new challenges continue to arise as lifeguards respond to a widening array of incidents in their mission to keep New Zealanders safe on the beach.

Williams notes the dual challenges the organisation continues to respond too led by annually increasing visitor numbers, and the increasing range of complex incidents lifeguards are being tasked too. “Since the start of the season 1,455 members of the public have needed immediate intervention from lifeguards and as a result 840 lives have being saved during the summer,” he says.

“Lifeguards continue to engage a number of different skills to support the public and have increased their assistance with various incidents including specialist first aid, boating rescues and more.”

Williams says that the focus for the rest of the season will remain with supporting lifeguards who are assisting the public in multiple ways on the beach and continuing to educate the public.

“So far Northern Region lifeguards have been busy with a wide variety of incidents scattered across the region. Despite the growing number of ways people are finding themselves in need of lifeguards services, adhering to all of our key safety messages will go a long way to mitigate risk, and avoid unnecessary accident and injury,” he says.   

Waitangi Day was particularly busy for volunteer lifeguards who carried out a large number of rescues in difficult and critical conditions. SLSNR worked with their emergency partners to perform 16 rescues with around 14,655 members of the public visiting the beach at one time. Williams says that the different ways that people are getting into trouble demand a varied response from lifeguards.

“There is no consistent pattern of activity or behaviour that’s causing people harm. This makes it difficult to identify a behavioural trend to try and remove or reduce harm,” he says.

“Waitangi Day was a busy day and I’m pleased our organisation was able to provide rapid and co-ordinated response alongside our partner emergency services. It’s great to see highly skilled volunteers working together to try and avert tragedy, all of which will touch many within the community.”

The summer so far has seen a number of tragic incidents with the total number of beach-related fatalities higher now compared to last year. “Our condolences are with the families and whanau during these difficult days,” Williams says.

“This season key SLSNR messages remain the same with the golden rule for the public being swim at a patrolled beach and swim between the flags.”

In a time when it is increasingly difficult to get key safety messages across, SLSNR is considering new ways to connect with youth to deliver key messages and attract new lifeguard talent through social media channels like Facebook and Instagram.   

“Swimming and water safety education must remain an accessible skill for all New Zealanders.” Williams says. “While SLSNR do support the community with water competency training, this needs to be a bigger conversation about how to ensure we all have the skills to enjoy our beautiful coastlines – safely.”

SLSNR Operations Manager Alan Gibson says he’d like to acknowledge the volunteers, regional staff and sponsors for their ongoing support this season. “We also encourage wider communities to join our organisation to help us save lives,” he says. “If you’re interested in volunteering for SLSNR and want to know more please contact”

This season SLSNR has focused on consolidating the improved practices from last season and looking at better support for each club individually. This includes continuing extended patrol hours to meet the demand. Volunteer lifeguard patrols will continue until 22 April and paid lifeguard services will continue throughout NZ beaches until 8 March.

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