New Zealand's drowning toll passed 100 yesterday.
New Zealand's drowning toll passed 100 yesterday.

Advice to save a life: What to do if caught in a rip

NEW Zealand's drowning toll passed 100 yesterday, and, per head of population, is twice as bad as Australia's.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand chairman Geoff Hamilton says of the eight deaths in the past four days, none was at a patrolled location.

"I cannot stress enough, the need for people to choose one of these spots to swim at," he said.

"The beach is our natural playground but it can also be deadly."

Seven people have drowned these holidays, including four on Christmas Day, and 12-year-old Jack Martin was killed on Boxing Day when he fell of an inflatable sea biscuit and was hit by a passing vessel on Blue Lake in Central Otago.

Yesterday, a 50-year-old man freediving at the private Puatai Beach near Gisborne was caught in a rip just after 2pm.

His family were trying to revive him on rocks when the Eastland Rescue Helicopter arrived. However, the man died at the scene.

Rips are often identified by a patch of calm between waves.
Rips are often identified by a patch of calm between waves.

How to identify a rip

• Calm patches in surf with waves breaking each side
• Rippled or criss-crossed water
• Discoloured water
• Foamy water
• Sand bars with the above features between them

What to do if you get caught

• Don't panic
• Let the rip sweep you along until the current weakens
• When the current has subsided, swim parallel to the shore for 30-40m before returning to shore, swimming slowly
• If you are in trouble, float on your back to preserve energy and wait until the rip has stopped taking you out. Then swimming away from it.
• If you are at a patrolled beach, raise your hand to alert the lifeguards that you need assistance.

Water Safety New Zealand is next year targeting Kiwi men and boys, who make up 80 per cent of drownings.

It wants to eventually halve the male drowning death toll to around 40, but a "realistic goal" for the new year would be around 60, chief executive Matt Claridge said.

Males are often more involved in aquatic activities, he said, but that brought a higher chance of risk taking, and males were prone to being "pretty confident before they've even got any skills or basic knowledge, which is a problem".

Drownings in rivers and river mouths are a particularly bad New Zealand problem, as are the "cultural reasons for heading to the river", Mr Claridge said.

Two of his key messages were for parents to get in the water with their kids, and for men to wear life-jackets on boats: "They are absolutely no use to you in the cabin."

And if the weather conditions are poor, people should not head out onto the water, Mr Claridge said.

"Our message is, stop and think before going near the water."

Another week remains until the end of the official holiday period at 6am on January 5 and Mr Hamilton hopes no one else drowns over this time.

If people can't get to a patrolled location, they need to consider the risks before entering the water, he said.

And when it comes to children, Mr Hamilton says supervision is key.

"You have to keep them within arm's reach at all times. It's as simple as that."