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Leading professional lifeguard says swim between flags message is ‘desirable but unrealistic’
With two people having drowned on the NSW north coast in the past week, leading professional lifeguard Greg Hackforth has stated that an expectation that all beachgoers will swim between the flags all the time is unrealistic.
Greg Hackforth, Lifeguard Co-ordinator for Coffs Harbour City Council and a former President of the Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association (APOLA) has told the ABC that while swimming between the flags is the most desirable outcome, the reality was quite different, particularly for swimmers in regional areas.
Hackforth stated "if you look at Sydney's coastline there's a lot of patrolled beaches around the area, but on the north coast you've got long stretches of beach that are unpatrolled.”
Hackforth said surf patrols outside cities were generally limited to weekend windows or school holidays, and that swimmers don’t just go to the beach during those times.
He explained “in Coffs Harbour our last patrol is 5 o'clock. During peak summer periods you've got two hours of daylight after that and it can still be 30 degrees plus.
"It is an unrealistic expectation that people are going to swim between the flags all the time."
This week Surf Life Saving NSW again urged people not to swim at unpatrolled beaches, after the death of an 11-year-old boy at Lighthouse Beach near Port Macquarie and a 21-year-old man who drowned just south of Byron Bay.
But with 13 recorded drownings along the NSW coast since July - four more than the same time last year - the ABC has questioned whether improved lifeguarding services should be offered or whether these are greater deterrents for people swimming at beaches that are not monitored.
NSW Police said the boy who drowned at Lighthouse Beach with his family when he was swept away in a rip. The local council website shows the beach will not be patrolled by lifesavers until the school holiday period on 18th December,and then between 9am and 5pm.
Tallow Beach, where the 21-year-old man drowned while swimming on a Wednesday, is only listed as being patrolled on weekends.
Hackforth said he would never encourage someone to swim at an unpatrolled beach, but the reality was that people did.
Surf Life Saving New South Wales Chief Executive Steven Pearce said he understood how enticing it could be for swimmers take a dip and sometimes avoid a longer drive to a patrolled area.
But he urged people to remember the consequences could be devastating, telling the ABC “we've had two tragic drownings and that brings the NSW coastal drownings total to 13 (since July).”
Pearce acknowledged that lifeguards could not be everywhere all the time for everyone, adding “if you are venturing out at an unpatrolled beach for whatever reason, and our message is please don't, then obviously you need to identify what a rip current is.
"If you're second guessing, don't enter the water at all."
Pearce said SLSNSW was bringing in drone technology initiatives for the upcoming summer to help address the issue of people swimming on unpatrolled beaches.
He said the drones would give lifeguards extra eyes and visibility of areas where they could not be in places all the time.
Image: Lighthouse Beach, Port Macquarie.
14th December 2017 - SURF LIFE SAVING AUSTRALIA REVEALS 116 COASTAL DROWNING DEATHS IN 2016/17
6th January 2017 - BONDI RESCUE EDUCATES THE WORLD ABOUT BEACH SAFETY
28th January 2016 - LIFE SAVING LEADERS RECOGNISED BY AUSTRALIA DAY HONOURS
7th January 2016 - SURF LIFE SAVING AUSTRALIA ASKS BEACHGOERS TO PLAY A ROLE IN SAFETY
27th December 2015 - PROFESSIONAL LIFEGUARDS HIGHLIGHT NEED FOR SAFETY FIRST AT THE BEACH
29th April 2015 - PROFESSIONAL OCEAN LIFEGUARDS GATHER ON THE COFFS COAST
30th November 2014 - PROFESSIONAL LIFEGUARDS ADVOCATE SAFETY FIRST AT AUSTRALIAN BEACHES
1st October 2014 - AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT MOVES TO CUT DROWNING DEATHS
14th February 2014 - GOSFORD LIFEGUARDS WIN ANNUAL BONDI LIFEGUARD RELAY
3rd January 2014 - PROFESSIONAL LIFEGUARDS SAY SAFETY FIRST AT AUSTRALIAN BEACHES
28th November 2013 - OCEAN RIPS KILL MORE THAN BUSHFIRES, CYCLONES, FLOODS OR SHARK ATTACKS
11th October 2010 - SURF DROWNINGS INCREASE DUE TO CHANGING AUSTRALIA
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