Sixth drowning fatality in three days, while quick response to neck injuries between the flags saves two lives at Whangārei Heads and Muriwai

Auckland has seen its sixth drowning fatality in the region since Friday, as Surf Life Saving Northern Region continues its call on people to swim at lifeguarded beaches, during the patrol hours.

The drowning on Sunday occurred at the unpatrolled Tawharanui Regional Park, north of Auckland.

On Saturday, one person died at Takapuna, while two people died at North Piha despite United North Piha lifeguards’ attempts to rescue them after patrol had ended for the day.

Two people drowned at unpatrolled beaches on Friday, one at Narrow Neck Beach on Auckland’s North Shore, and another at Big Manly Beach on the Whangaparāoa peninsula.

Meanwhile, Northern Region lifeguards were able to respond quickly to two separate incidents involving spinal injuries at Whangārei Heads and Muriwai. Both incidents occurred between the flags, caused by swimmers being dumped into the sand by large waves, and could easily have proven fatal had lifeguards not been on hand to respond.

Surf Life Saving Northern Region (SLSNR) Chief Executive Matt Williams said there was a clear correlation between the drownings, which all occurred either at unpatrolled beaches, or outside regular patrol hours, and the lifesaving interventions by lifeguards.

“Simply put, if you swim at a patrolled beach, during patrol hours, in between the flags, you are going to have a lifeguard nearby who can respond immediately if something happens.

“If you swim at an unpatrolled beach, or outside patrol hours, you are placing yourself at an incredible risk. These deaths were tragic, but some may have been preventable if lifeguards were actively patrolling the area.

“We would be open to investigating how we might establish patrols or improve safety outcomes at some beaches that are not currently patrolled, however for our organisation it is a question of resourcing and manpower,” he says.

“Ultimately, our weekday paid lifeguarding service, which operates over the summer months, has a limited capability and limited funding. Similarly, our weekend patrol services rely on our committed volunteer lifeguards, so there are limitations there.”

Williams said there were examples of communities standing up patrol services with the support of Northern Region, most recently at Baylys Beach, near Dargaville, which resumed patrols in 2021, when the club was re-established after a nearly 20-year hiatus.

He added that some clubs were setting up temporary patrols where there was a need, including at Pākiri, north of Leigh, Takapuna beach, Long Bay, and Wenderholm locations. All of our patrolling locations and times can be found on the Safe Swim website,  

“Our lifeguards across the region performed a total of 50 rescues, 16 assists, and eight major first aids already this weekend. There is a huge need for our services at the beaches we already patrol.

While we want to be everywhere, we also need to focus on the coastlines we currently patrol. The community must also contribute their part, by ensuring they swim at lifeguarded beaches, during the patrol hours” he says.


Weekend patrol statistics (Saturday and Sunday) for Northern Region: No. of people rescued


No. of people assisted


No. of major first aids


No. of minor first aids


No. of searches


No. of preventatives


No. of people involved


Peak head count


No. of hours worked



2023 Season Beach Safety Messages from Surf Lifesaving Northern Region:

  • Choose a surf lifeguard patrolled beach and swim between the flags
  • Read and understand the safety signs – ask a surf lifeguard for advice as conditions can change regularly
  • Don’t overestimate your ability or your children’s ability to cope in the conditions
  • Always keep a close eye on very young children in or near the water – always keep them within arm’s reach
  • Get a friend to swim with you – never swim or surf alone
  • Watch out for rip currents, they can carry you away from shore. If caught in a rip current remember the 3Rs: *Relax and float, *Raise your hand and *Ride the rip
  • Be smart around rocks: When fishing never turn your back towards the sea and always wear a lifejacket
  • If in doubt, stay out!
  • If you see someone in trouble, call 111 and ask for the Police
  • Be sun smart – slip, slop, slap and wrap to protect your skin and eyes from the sun’s damaging rays.


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