Northern NSW lifeguards have concluded their summer safety campaign – Operation Beachsafe — and have reported that Far North Coast beaches attracted huge crowds over the holiday season.

The Australian Lifeguard Service, in partnership with local councils, commenced patrols on more than 40 beaches along the northern NSW coast on Saturday, 20th December 2008, utilising more than 120 lifeguards.

The weather was a vast improvement on last year and beach and surf conditions were very good.

Lifeguards reported big crowds, with some beaches reporting that the number of beach-goers was at its highest level in many years.

During the five-and-a-half week period, 231 people required to be rescued.

The vast majority of these were relatively easy rescues where people found themselves in deeper water and were unable to cope.  

Most beaches reported a small number of rescues but lifeguards at Duranbah (in the Tweed Shire) were kept busy with 43 rescues.

Lifeguards at Nambucca were tasked by police to search for a missing spear-fisherman after he was swept out to sea near the mouth of the Nambucca River. After an extensive search, they found the fisherman more than 500 metres out to sea but safe and well.

A new lifeguard station was situated at The Wreck, Byron Bay this summer. The lifeguard carried out 27 rescues, undertook more than 1500 preventative actions and performed 233 first-aid treatments.

“An important part of a lifeguard’s duty is to carry out preventative actions – where the Lifeguard advises a swimmer that they are swimming in a dangerous location, swimming outside the flags or has proactively provided other safety advice,” co-ordinator Stephen Leahy said.

“It is undertaken usually when the swimmer is in danger of getting into trouble.

“During the summer holidays, lifeguards carried out 33,698 preventative actions, with more than 6700 warnings being issued in the Tweed Shire, 13,571 in the Byron Shire including the Cape Byron Trust area, and 5212 in the Clarence Valley Shire.

“ifeguards provided first-aid and emergency care treatment to 1561 people. Many of these were minor cuts, lacerations and marine stings.  

“In one case, the Lifeguards at Cabarita quickly recognised an unconscious male after he collapsed on the beach.

“In another case, lifeguards at Brooms Head were called to the beachside caravan park where a male had suffered a cardiac arrest. They resuscitated the man successfully but he later passed away in hospital.”

Mr Leahy said there was one drowning at Coffs Harbour but this was in a council area where the lifeguard service is not provided by the ALS.

A search is continuing for a 27-year-old man who is missing presumed dead after it is believed he was swept into the surf after a late-night motorcycle accident on at Evans Head.

Lifeguards have suggested that the holiday period has been one of the best summers in many years.

“Long-serving lifeguards and lifesavers have told me that they haven’t seen better weather and bigger crowds on our beaches in a long time,” Mr Leahy said.

“The traditional busiest week of the year are the days between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day. But we have seen the same levels of activity continuing right through to Australia Day afternoon.”

Mr Leahy also paid tribute to the lifeguards. “It’s an absolute credit to the team who have provided an outstanding service to the community under some very trying conditions,” he said.

“I believe that we have some of the best lifeguards in the world based here in northern NSW. They have made sure the public remained safe under a wide variety of weather and surf conditions. Lifeguarding is more than just a job and their dedication has made sure our beaches have remained safe over the summer.

“Their efforts have upheld the true traditions of surf lifesaving in Australia of vigilance and service.”

The Australian Lifeguard Service also recognised the community for remaining safe this summer. “We applaud the community for enjoying the beach safely over the last six weeks,” said Mr Leahy.

“Many people heeded the advice and warnings we issued over summer, especially during periods of dangerous surf. We are certainly impressed with the behaviour of visitors to the beaches.”

Whilst most beaches complete summer lifeguard services, many popular beaches will continue providing lifesaving services through the local surf lifesaving clubs.  

Daily lifeguard services will continue at Salt (South Kingscliff), the main beach at Byron Bay, Lennox Head and Shelly Beach (Ballina).  

Additional lifeguard services will again be provided during the Easter and Autumn School Holiday periods throughout northern NSW.

In summary:

231 rescues
33,698 preventative actions;
1531 first-aid treatments;
577 law enforcement warnings under the Local Government Act;
11 searches for missing people or vessels; and
7 shark sightings.