Northern Region lifeguards experience busy winter and early spring

For Surf Life Saving Northern Region

Surf Life Saving Northern Region (SLSNR) is warning against complacency on the coastline after noticing a major uptick in the number of serious callouts in Northland, Auckland and Waikato.

In the past five days there have been five serious incidents in the Northern Region, resulting in six lives saved and two deaths.

SLSNR CEO Matt Williams says it’s been the busiest winter in recent memory. “We’ve had 33 callouts for our Emergency Callout Squads since the start of May this year. When you consider that in the whole of last year – including over summer – we had just 31 callouts, that’s a massive increase in our workload, and it’s forecast to keep growing.”

“Year-on-year this number and the demand on our volunteer lifeguards outside of patrolling hours continues to increase, with callouts now doubling previous averages. Should the situation remain unchecked it presents a concerning outlook in terms of water safety.”

Williams says the spike in itself can most probably be put down to human nature, a new-found appreciation for the ocean following the Covid-19 lockdowns, the recent warm weather, school holidays and an increasing trend towards aquatic activity year round on the coastline. “We believe the coastline is currently very appealing to the public, with large amounts of recent media focusing on restricting access, and use of the coastline there seems to be a rush back to enjoy all it has to offer.

“We only ask that this be done safely, but unfortunately we’ve seen this wish to get back to the coast manifest in people not taking the right precautions or not staying within their abilities, and the last week has shown just how many ways there are to get in trouble on the coast.”

Williams says it’s vital that users assess the risks before going out to the coast, especially since lifeguards aren’t on active duty until Labour Weekend. “If you see someone in trouble call 111 and ask Police for the surf lifeguards – our Emergency Callouts Squads are available to respond 24/7.”

He says the past week of activity has shown Auckland’s west coast is a particular concern for SLSNR because of the dangerous conditions and poor cellphone coverage. “So unless you’re confident - avoid going in or near the water.”

On Thursday, lifeguards from the Piha Emergency Callout Squad (ECOS) were called out to rescue three people in distress at the Keyhole – a natural rock formation on the West Auckland beach.

Later that day on the same stretch of coastline, two lifeguards from the Muriwai Emergency Callout Squad were called to rescue a surfer who had been swept from the nearby Maori Bay onto a rocky island off the Gannett Colony.

On Tuesday, lifeguards from Bethells, United North Piha and Piha Surf Clubs were tasked with rescuing a woman who fell into the water off the rocks at White’s Beach, north of Piha. The Piha IRB arrived first and the two lifeguards performed CPR on the shoreline until she was pronounced dead by paramedics from the Westpac Rescue Helicopter.

On Monday, Bethells Emergency Callout Squad were alerted to a fisherman swept off the rocks at O’Neill’s Bay. Lifeguards responded in two Inflatable Rescue Boats and searched the area thoroughly but could not find the man.

On Sunday, lifeguards from the Mangawhai Heads Emergency Callout Squad had just finished a joint training exercise with Waipū Cove when they noticed two girls stuck in a hole. A lifeguard on a rescue board responded and with the help of a local surfer paddled the two girls to safety.

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