The NSRI’s commercial lifeguard season began on 1 December 2021, and as the month progressed more units were introduced. In fact, this season saw the largest ever presence of NSRI lifeguards who manned various beaches extending from Lamberts Bay on the West Coast to Kei Mouth on the Wild Coast. NSRI’s Head of the Lifeguard Unit Stewart Seini tells us more about the season’s activities.
The main function of NSRI lifeguards is to provide education, prevention and rescue services on public beaches. From the outset, the 21/22 season proved to be a busy one, not only because of the volume of people making use of the open beaches (the season had been cut short last year due to Covid-19 restrictions), but also due to La Niña causing adverse weather conditions including dangerous swells. “Most days, we experienced all four seasons in one day,” Stewart Seini, NSRI’s Head of the Lifeguard Unit explains. “This made it difficult for us to predict beach attendance. People wanted to swim no matter what the conditions were, and our lifeguards had to constantly ensure that they had a safe area to swim while monitoring the surf and tide conditions.”
New signage and tattoo stickers
Thanks to bright new signage, the lifeguards were able to demarcate safe swimming areas as well as indicate where it was not safe to swim due to the presence of rip currents. With the signage in place, the lifeguards were able to focus on what was happening in the water rather than having to spend large amounts of time pointing out safe swimming areas or explaining why certain areas were unsafe. “The signage did that work for us,” Stewart says, “so, the lifeguards could concentrate on what they do best!”
In addition, “Swim between the flags” temporary tattoos were made for the children on the beach. This gave the lifeguards the chance to explain to the kids the importance of only swimming in between the lifeguards’ red-and-yellow flags, and never to swim where no lifeguards are on duty.
A busy, busy season
The Lifeguard Unit reported beach attendance of around 222 000 people over the holiday season. As of 16 January 2022, the lifeguards had performed 4 018 prevention actions (those actions that prevent people from getting into trouble). This is an important function of the lifeguard initiative, which is a proactive one and aims to intervene before people are at risk of drowning or being injured. Actual incidents amounted to 306, which included 120 rescues, 160 first-aid emergencies (41 of which were due to jellyfish stings), 10 missing persons and 1 animal rescue.
The lifeguards don’t only keep an eye on swimmers and beachgoers, but also on what’s happening in the sea. “On 15 occasions, the lifeguards had to close the beaches due to great white shark activity close to the bathing areas,” Stewart explains.
Looking out for our communities
In summing up the season thus far, Stewart says: “The NSRI Lifeguard service supports the community by providing the highest quality lifeguarding, the best and most advanced lifeguarding equipment, beach safety and upliftment of local community members in the areas in which we operate. They provide a service that enhances the beach amenities available, and the information and statistics that we provide in our end-of-season report really demonstrates the dedication of our Lifeguard teams. Our local area managers ensure that the lifeguards were operating at the highest standards and have all the support they need. Good management is vital to be able to run a successful service. As an organisation, we are proud to be able to report that no lives were lost between or near the flags during the season. This is testament to the training, capability and effectiveness of our lifeguards.”
“It was like watching Baywatch, only faster!”
After an adult male slipped and fell down a cliff by the caves near Roman Beach, the on-duty lifeguards were alerted and immediately called the NSRI’s EOC for medical backup while responding to the area. The lifeguards responded as far as they could in their 4x4, after which they had to grab their medical equipment and make their way down the cliff to the casualty, who had multiple large deep lacerations to his head. The lifeguards dressed the wounds, stabilised the casualty and assisted him out of the area to the waiting ambulance. The lifeguards were thanked for their prompt and professional response, with one bystander saying: “We looked up to see three lifeguards running with hands full of advanced medical equipment, focused on getting to the patient as quickly as possible – it was like watching Baywatch, only faster!”
Injured surfer assisted
While learning to surf at Buffs Beach, a female jumped off her board into waist-deep water. She was immediately struck by severe pain in her leg. On-duty lifeguards realised something was amiss and launched to go and help her. They recovered her to the beach, where they discovered she had landed badly after her jump and had fractured bones in her leg. The lifeguards stabilised her and she was admitted to hospital. The casualty called the lifeguards three weeks later to personally thank them for saving her.
Lifeguard stations around the country
- Matzikama: Strandfontein beach
- Cederberg: Lamberts Bay, Elands Bay, Clanwilliam Dam
- Saldanha: Saldanha Main Beach, Hoedjiesbaai, Paternoster, St Helena Bay, Leentjiesklip
- Mykonos: Located at Marc’s Beach Bar, Taverna Oceanis
- Knysna: Myoli, Sedgemouth, Swartvlei, Buffels Bay, Brenton-on-Sea, Noetzie, Buffs Wild, Leisure Isle, Karatara swimming pool
- Kei: Kei Main Beach, Morgans Bay
- Agulhas: Struisbaai, Struisbaai North, Roman Beach, Kassiesbaai, Bikini Beach
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