Be safe around the water this summer
There are some days that stick in your mind as a journalist. For me, one was Christmas Day 2015, but not because it was hot and sunny.
I was working and after an enjoyable morning meeting the first baby born on Christmas, we started to hear reports of emergency services heading to beaches.
By the end of that day, three people, including a toddler, had drowned and a fourth was missing.
By the time the official Christmas and New Year holiday period had finished 10 people had died by drowning.
‘‘The toll is gut wrenching,’’ Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said.
It was a horrible two weeks and Surf Life Saving New Zealand national lifesaving manager Allan Mundy said two things I haven’t forgotten:
1. ‘‘None of these drownings took place between the flags.’’
2. ‘‘Consider the risks before entering the water. Don’t overestimate your abilities in the surf.’’
I realised I was probably one or two trips to the beach away from becoming one of the hundreds of people who have to be saved by surf lifeguards each year.
It was like a wave slapping me in the face.
I had often shrugged off the importance of the red and yellow flags because, in my head, I was a good swimmer, despite only getting in the water in summer and not swimming in a pool in years.
It was a turning point for me. I have since learnt how to swim again, going from crawling 25 metres to completing my first two kilometre ocean swim last week.
I now always swim at a patrolled beach and between the flags. I know my ability and how to recognise when I’m tired or getting out of my depth.
The sea is mother nature at her most fierce. It can’t be controlled or tamed.
In the past 10 years, lifeguards have spent more than two million hours on patrol, saving more than 13,700 lives.
Last summer they saved 1517 people from life-threatening situations.
This year, there will be 4500 volunteer lifeguards who will be on duty, keeping an eye on those in the water and trying to stop the drowning toll from increasing.
It already sits at 91, with 71 of those at rivers, beaches or tidal waters.
Let’s make their job easier and be safe around the water these holidays. Let’s get to autumn with a summer drowning toll of zero.