High number of rescues adds weight to lifeguard funding issue

Surf Life Saving Northern Region (SLSNR) says the 96 rescues at Raglan’s beach this summer highlight the importance of having paid lifeguards on duty throughout the week.

SLSNR acting CEO Matt Williams says thanks to the community stumping up an extra $35,000 required after a funding shortfall from local authorities, paid lifeguards were able to patrol Raglan’s Ngarunui Beach on weekdays, from Monday to Friday, until February 19, which helped to keep down the national drowning toll for the summer.

“Imagine what the drowning toll would look like today if those wonderful lifeguards had not been present,” he says.

SLSNR’s Regional Lifeguard Service in Raglan had been at risk of being cut short this summer because of the funding deficit, until Waipa District Council and an anonymous donor had come up with the shortfall.

In Raglan, which is one of SLSNR’s busiest locations, lifeguards made 96 rescues. There were a total of 530 rescues in the northern region, which extends from Raglan to the Far North.

Matt says the challenge now is for the Waikato funding of the Regional Lifeguard Service, which includes Sunset Beach at Port Waikato, to be included in the upcoming Waikato Regional Council (WRC) Annual Plan.

He says SLSNR, which gets money from sponsorship, gaming grants, community trusts and council funding, had asked WRC for increased funding totalling $260,000 for its summer patrols but had got only $25,000, while HCC had completely cut its funding of $38,000.

Rather than go cap in hand to the different local authorities to help fund the service, it would be better if it came from the one regional provider, he says.

“Coastguard and Surf Life Saving have been working very hard on this and I can tell you that for only $5.70 per rate payer we can fully fund both our services in the Waikato … What a bargain!”

Raglan Surf Life Saving Club administrator John Thomas says funding shortfalls are a concern for its volunteer lifeguards, who only patrol the beach during the weekend because of their own work commitments.

“When we are all working, the beaches are not guarded.

“We were concerned, as a club, that if someone would drown we would get the blame.”

Volunteer lifeguards had copped abuse by the public for not being on duty when Hamilton teenager Cory Edgecombe Lilley was swept out to sea on a Thursday, November 26. His body has never been found.

Two Chinese tourists also drowned at Ruapuke Beach, where there are no beach patrols, on Christmas Day.

John’s advice is to not go in the water at an unpatrolled beach unless you are a “really experienced swimmer”, especially in the surf.

He says the main problem is that people do not understand the ocean.

“You can see families who will walk down to the water with their kids and put them straight into the sea where a rip is.”

Volunteer lifeguards will continue weekend patrols at Ngarunui Beach until Easter.

“There’s still another month to go … we don’t want there to be another catastrophe.”

John says it’s been a very busy season in Raglan, with volunteers making 22 rescues on their busiest day.

Trust Waikato Raglan Surf Life Saving Club convener of lifesaving Keagan Gaarkeuken says the number of rescues in Raglan this summer is already higher than the previous year.

“We have already made 80-plus rescues this season and there were 49 last year.”

To date, there has been 6350 preventative actions recorded, compared with 6300 for the entire season to Easter the previous year.

Keagan says the crowds at the beach have been bigger this year because the weather and water has been warm.

“The surf this year has been a bit more tricky to manage too, with the erosion over the winter causing changes to the currents … the currents have been quite strong.”

The most dangerous time to swim in the sea has been two hours on either side of the low tide.                                         

Inger Vos

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