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Drownings Down But Lifeguard Demand Increasing

9 December 2003

Drownings down but Lifeguard demand increasing

Last week Water Safety New Zealand announced drownings were at a record low for the year to date. However, indications so far are Surf Lifeguards may be the ones behind that statistic.

Surf Lifeguards began summer patrols on beaches at Labour weekend and have already saved 71 lives on New Zealand beaches. So far volunteer lifeguards have clocked up 12,500 hours of beach patrols, 1,000 more than this time last year.

"Last year we provided 20% more patrol hours, saved 42% more lives and undertook 80% more first aid's than five years ago," says Surf Life Saving New Zealand (SLSNZ) CEO Geoff Barry.

Traditional hot spots are in line with normal lifesaving activity so far this summer. Auckland's Piha lifeguards have saved 12 lives, with 6 on one day in rough surf. At the other end of the country Dunedin's St Clair Club have saved 14 lives.

SLSNZ reports it's too early in the summer to predict any greater risks this year compared to others.

"January is our busy month. Last January we provided nearly 50,000 patrol hours, so the early part of the summer is relatively quiet," says Barry. " Last January 702 lives were saved in that one month alone, so the pressure really comes on."

With increasing costal development Surf Life Saving New Zealand is looking at new strategies to prevent drownings. "We simply have not got the capacity to grow our beach services as fast as demand is driving" says Barry.

This summer will mark the first of a three year public education campaign to be launched by SLSNZ with the support of international freight company DHL. "We're the largest provider of water safety education in the country but we can't patrol at every piece of the coastline. We can reach the public through strategies other than just beach patrols, and SLSNZ seems to be the only body prepared to invest in a strategy."

Last summer Surf Lifeguards saved 1,847 lives, performed nearly 88,000 preventative actions during 149,594 hours of beach patrols

- END -

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