Thursday, 10 May 2012

Swimmers, know your beach ~ you can't argue with the sea!

 ~ This is the first of four articles about water safety ~

This sign is meant to be taken seriously:

The beach looks safe and peaceful, but it's not: serious rips can rapidly take swimmers out of their depth and keep them there.   

Earlier in the year I witnessed just such an incident: when the persistent noise of a helicopter was joined by a wail of a siren I hurried to the front window to see what was happening.  That window overlooks part of the beach.  I reached it just in time to see an ambulance turn in to the parking area, and watched the helicopter moving slowly back and forth above the water; the lifesaving club's zippy inflatable boat came into view soon after.  It was clear that some kind of rescue was under way.  

Less than an hour before I had seen two young women go to the water's edge looking all set for a cooling swim.  I thought then that this was not a good situation, but being some distance away and having other things to do I left them to it.  Later I found out that it was these two who had got into difficulties.  They had had a very lucky escape: they had been swept out to about 200 metres and been stuck there for over half an hour before emergency services were contacted.  One of them was able to swim back in but the other had to be pulled out of the water.  

All those people who went to their aid had been training for just these sorts of events, but what an expense it must have been: the financial expense alone must have been prodigious, let alone the time of those skilled volunteers who sprang to their aid - all a result of walking past that very clear sign which they either didn't see or didn't take seriously!

These people also had lucky escapes:
New Zealanders love the water, but drowning rates are high.  The Water Safety New Zealand website states that:
On average (last 5 years) 105 New Zealanders per annum have died by drowning.  New Zealand’s annual drowning toll is one of the worst in the developed world.  Water safety education is about saving lives, in, on and under the water...  ...Drowning is the third highest cause of unintentional death in New Zealand.
Learning to swim is an important life skill which not everyone has mastered, but even more important is learning to exercise sound good sense around water!  Even strong swimmers can get into difficulties.

Here the Life Savers await swimmers at Brighton Beach:

When they set out their gear there were no swimmers anywhere in sight, but they were watching and ready if needed.  

The local clubhouse displays this sign with simple but sound advice:
  • Swim between the flags
  • Listen to the lifeguards
  • Never swim alone.

These don't seem difficult or unreasonable, and could make all the difference between a happy outing and tragedy.

I often see the Life Savers practising their manoeuvres.  Here they are practising rescues in conjunction with a helicopter:

The lifesavers inflatable boat was out on the water with crew who jumped into the water one at a time and awaited rescue from the helicopter: a rescuer was winched down, picked up the person in the water, and was winched back up again.  Yes, that's two people hanging on below the chopper:

You can see how the wind from the chopper is roughening the water, so the lifesaving boat had to be well clear of that area.  The water was calm that evening, which was good for practising.  It can get very rough out there.  Rescues can be needed in any weather.

It's easy to take these services for granted.  Twice in this article the term 'lucky' has been used to describe those fortunate enough to be rescued from peril, but is it luck or good management that rescue services got there in time?  Probably a mixture of both.  We are profoundly fortunate that all these people have made a commitment to be there for others, that they are there at all!  From force of habit we expect them to be on hand, yet these services are composed of dedicated individuals and volunteers, and are funded by donations and sponsorships.  I encourage you to make your own contribution to their services if you can.  They might rescue someone you love, or they might even rescue you some day - you never know!

The Life Savers featured here are:
Their national body is:
The air rescue services listed below are all provided by Charitable Trusts:
All these people have my admiration and respect for their skill and dedication to the welfare of their fellow humans!

A bouquet must also be awarded to those who created the wonderful paintings on the toilet and changing room facilities next to the Brighton Surf Life Saving Clubrooms.  Aren't they fabulous!

My next article about water safety is about keeping an eye on the tides and may be helpful to fisher-folk and shellfish gatherers, as well as people like me who simply enjoy pottering about the inter-tidal rocks and pools.

You can find my other articles about exploring the beach and its rock pools via the link below: 

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