21 Oct 2021
The lifeguarding season at most of New Zealand’s patrolled beaches will begin this Labour Weekend, and COVID-19 restrictions mean patrols will return to the beach in a very different manner, says Surf Life Saving Northern Region CEO Matt Williams.
“With the Auckland and Waikato Region still under COVID-19 lockdown at Level 3, patrolling arrangements and management of the public attending the regions’ beaches will be subject to strict protocols. At this stage most of our clubs will have a presence on the beach as long as we do not move back into Level 4,” he says.
“The recognisable yellow and red flags may not be present at all patrol locations, and some clubs will only provide an Observational Patrol due to limited patrol numbers. If lifeguards consider beach conditions to be too dangerous for themselves and beach users, there may be a ‘red flag’ beach which means ‘no swimming’.”
People heading to the beach who wish to find out what lifesaving provisions will be available at a particular beach should visit the Safeswim website. Developed in partnership with Auckland Council and Auckland Regional Public Health Service, the website provides updates on beach numbers and patrol activity across Northern Region beaches.
Williams acknowledges the tremendous effort and courage volunteers are showing to perform their duties despite COVID-19 restrictions making lifesaving operations more complicated. To prevent any spread of the virus among volunteers, patrol operations will mirror a COVID-19-impacted environment with limited patrol numbers, volunteer-only access to clubrooms, no overnighting at clubhouses and limited public contact.
“Our role is to ensure the public are safe at the beach but our first priority is to ensure our guards are also safe. It’s mandatory for our guards to wear masks and adhere to social distancing where possible, but clearly for some rescues a mask is impractical.
If members of the public need to engage with our guards they should approach them much as you would a supermarket worker – keeping a two-metre distance and wearing a mask.”
Williams says use of patrol flags to mark a safe swimming location will continue where possible, and they are relying on the co-operations of the public to maintain social distancing between the flags.
“It’s important we all work together to take practical steps around numbers at the beach and safe distancing in the water, if this is not managed, lifeguards may intervene by restricting swimming numbers or closing beach services for safety reasons.”
He says beachgoers should be rigorous in using their COVID tracer phone apps. “Most beaches will have QR codes at the reserve or outside the surf club, or the location can be entered manually. We don’t encourage people to travel to remote or isolated locations during high alert levels but if they are somewhere where there are no guards and someone is in trouble in the water they should call 111 and ask for lifeguard emergency services.
“We understands that lockdown has provided ample opportunity for the public to purchase new toys or tools for recreational use and fully supports the public enjoying the coast in whatever way that is meaningful to them. This doesn’t come without warning however to exercise caution and make sure you know your limits and are well prepared before heading out.”
Finally Williams calls on the public to continue working alongside the lifeguards who are giving up their time voluntarily to provide these services to the public. “Our team of 6,000 volunteers has put in a power of work over the last months to ensure they are ready to provide safe access to the Coast at patrolled locations, and this has taken multiple revisions in light of changing restrictions. It is a triumph alone that patrols are underway,” he says.
This weekend Surf Life Saving Northern Region is hoping for a positive start to the season with everyone leaving the beach with a smile and returning home to their families. The Region’s Emergency Callout Squads (ECOS) will continue to operate 24/7 outside patrolled times and areas and can be activated by calling 111 and asking for Police.
Give us a call, send us a message or call in and see us. We’d love to hear from you.