22 Oct 2015

Lifeguards get ready for El Niño

6:35 pm on 22 October 2015

A record number of northern lifeguards are preparing for a busy summer, with Auckland's growing population combining with predicted strong El Niño conditions.

Surf Life Saving lifeguards test out a rescue boat at Muriwai Beach, Auckland.

Surf Life Saving lifeguards test out a rescue boat at Muriwai Beach, Auckland. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Bigger waves, more rips and a long and hot summer sending more people flocking to the water are expected.

Nationwide, 15 people died at beaches during the first half of this year - up from just six people during the same period last year.

At the country's northern beaches, spanning from Northland to Raglan, lifeguards are about to start their summer patrols to try to stop others from dying.

Surf Life Saving Northern Region lifesaving and club development manager David Butt said there would be 1943 active lifeguards at these beaches across the season.

That is an increase of 6 percent from last year, and many of them will start this Saturday.

"It's going to be big surf and very windy conditions but also a hot summer so we really need to keep an eye on that - certainly it's going to be a busy summer as per the last couple for us.

"With Auckland's growing population, our rescue numbers continue to grow, we want to keep that as low as possible," he said.

The northern region - where about 125,000 people went to the beach last summer - is the first in the country to start summer patrols.

David Butt, Surf Life Saving Northern Region Lifesaving and Club Development Manager, pictured at Muriwai

Surf Life Saving Northern Region's David Butt says his team is getting ready for an unusually busy summer. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker WIlson

Muriwai senior lifeguard Stephen Butt

Muriwai senior lifeguard Stephen Butt is welcoming an upgrade to his patrol's technology. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

New technology is on hand this season in the form up an upgraded radio network giving better reception in what can be notorious troublespots.

The upgrade meant replacing or reprogramming radio repeaters and ensuring there were back-up power supplies to keep emergency communications open at all times.

Muriwai lifeguard Stephen Butt said the upgrade was welcome at his beach, which is known for its danger.

"It's quite important, radio communication between lifeguards just allows the operation to be a lot smoother.

"It's a lot easier for us to get round the corner her at Muriwai and hopefully we'll be able to hear who's around there instead of having to have people up on the hill," he said.

Swimmers at Auckland's Muriwai Beach are told to 'swim between the flags'.

The message hasn't changed, lifeguards say - swim between the flags. Photo: RNZ / Kim Baker Wilson

Keep swimming between the flags

Across the country last year there were no drownings between surf life saving flags, and swimming between them remains a key message from lifeguards.

Lillian Hanly, who patrols Bethells Beach, said a number of things go wrong for beachgoers.

"You've got all your groups of potential victims - you've got your younger people, elderly people, improperly dressed people, foreigners who don't know what our beaches are like, people drinking alcohol.

"A long hot summer for me is great, I'm looking forward to it, but it does mean the beaches get very very busy," she said.

Lifeguards across the northern region's 17 clubs will remain protecting the public until Easter.

The numbers - statistics for the northern region over summer 2014/15

  • 85,986 lifeguard hours
  • 454 rescues
  • 989 first aid cases
  • 201 searches
  • 33,398 preventive deployments
  • 124,918 people kept safe

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