Lifeguards’ bid to avoid last year’s tragic summer
"IT'S been an amazing season so far - touch wood."
It's the midst of the summer and Coffs Harbour Lifeguard Greg Hackfath and his team are watching over the countless tourists and locals who have flocked to Jetty Beach.
Reflecting on this same time last year, when four visitors had already tragically lost their lives in the surf, Mr Hackfath is relieved to say incidents so far have been few.
"Over all our beaches along the coast we've only done half a dozen rescues this season and none of them have been really serious," he said.
Following the deaths of the four tourists at Moonee Creek just before Christmas 2018, including three Indian nationals and a Swiss national, Mr Hackfath said the team had been working hard with other services to implement preventive strategies such as Summer Safe - a multicultural surf awareness day.
Coffs Harbour lifeguards are also trialling a new patrol at Jetty Beach, as the council's revitalisation of the area has resulted in an increase in visitation numbers.
The new patrol includes inclusive access, with two new hippocampe wheelchairs and a Mobi-Mat available.
Lifeguards have only had to undertake one rescue at Jetty Beach so far.
"Jetty Beach is the most visited beach on the Coffs Coast. When you think about our other beaches, all except for Woolgoolga have pretty high impact waves and rips. So it's perfect for people who have limited knowledge of the surf.
"We're receiving great feedback for the trial so far."
While the lifeguards have had a relatively relaxed summer at Jetty Beach, they've had to assist with a number of rescues at neighbouring North Wall Beach which is unpatrolled.
As part of the trial patrol at Jetty Beach, the lifeguards have been putting up signs and regularly visiting North Wall to advise people not to swim there.
North Wall is considered dangerous for swimming due to permanent rips and a lack of accessibility for emergency vehicles.
"North Wall Beach has a permanent rip along the rocks, and usually at least one through the middle of the beach.
"It's one of those beaches a lot of people go to because it's a dog beach, and as much as we want to educate people about identifying rips it can actually be quite difficult to do so unless you've grown up near a beach.
"We're getting people who have very limited surf knowledge hitting up North Wall.
"Rips aren't dangerous - it's what you do when you're caught in one that will cause the issue. People hit the panic button and exhaust themselves out, and that's when they get into trouble."
Apart from the new patrol, lifeguards have also teamed up with Sawtell Surf Life Saving Club to trial six rescue tubes at Sawtell Beach.
The tubes offer a floatation device for swimmers who may find themselves in a situation where they need to undertake a rescue. Bystander drownings are the most common drowning events that occur on the east coast of Australia.
"There's been a lot of support from the Sawtell community for the trial. We're planning to leave them out until the end of the financial year, and if the trial is successful we may expand it to other beaches."
With the Australia Day long weekend just around the corner, Mr Hackfath is reminding beach goers to practise beach safety.
As of January 16, there have been 42 drowning deaths reported across Australia this summer, compared to 67 at the same time last year.
- Swim at patrolled beaches.
- Swim between the red and yellow flags.
- If you're not at a patrolled beach, swim near surfboard riders and take a floatation device such as a bodyboard or surfboard with you.
- Stay away from creeks and rivers, especially on outgoing tides. "Outgoing tides can be very powerful and they cause massive issues all around the country," Lifeguard Greg Hackfath says.