Rips are surf's silent killer

BEACH patrols have finished for the season forcing our lifeguards into action away from the surf.

They have launched a new awareness campaign warning swimmers about the silent killer on our beaches; rips.

With 90 per cent of surf rescues related to rips and record numbers of swimmers on our beaches this year, having beaches suddenly unpatrolled could be a recipe for disaster.

“Even though we've finished our patrols, people will still swim.  But if they know how dangerous rips are, they might stay out of them,” said Lifeguard co-ordinator Greg Hackfath.

During summer, drowings associated with rips occur every two to three days on average throughout Australia.

Locally, Mr Hackfath rated Park Beach and Diggers Beach as the two worst beaches in our local government area from a management point of view because of the rips that consistently appear there.

Two lives were lost off our shores this season - a bather at North Wall Beach and an angler washed off rocks at Sawtell.

Nearly 500,000 people visited Coffs Coast beaches in 2008/2009 according to lifeguard figures, compared to 360,000 in the previous season when foul weather kept many people away from the sand and the surf.

Park Beach, Sapphire Beach, Darlington/Lorikeet Park, Corindi and Red Rock all recorded increased beachgoers.

The recent return of warmer weather has people returning to unpatrolled beaches in droves.

“Our high school program is really good. We get the students onto the beach so they can experience a rip first-hand, but we need to target tourists and the general community on how to recognise a rip,” said Greg.

“We are investigating signage issues to identify dangerous locations at our beaches.”

The lifeguard industry was also actively recruiting surfboard riders because most of them had practical experience in rips.

“They do the most rescues, many more than lifeguards and lifesavers, and they know how to read the ocean,” he said.

Our lifeguards performed 34 rescues (including one between the flags) in 2008/2009, down from the more than 50 in the previous season. They also carried out 12,500 'preventative actions'.

“These are things we do to stop people getting in trouble in the first place,” Mr Hackfath said.

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