THE flags went up on the northern beaches over the weekend, marking another start of the swimming season.
Wollongong City Council lifeguards and surf club volunteers are back on the 17 patrolled beaches in the local government area to mark the beginning of the 2016/17 summer swim season.
Last year, more than 1.2 million people visited our city’s beaches with Council’s professional lifeguards carrying out 786 rescues. Council’s lifeguards work Monday to Saturday, with volunteers from Surf Life Saving Illawarra watching over swimmers on Sundays and public holidays.
“Our beaches are loved by locals and visitors alike and we’re expecting another busy summer,’’ Wollongong City Council’s Recreational Service Manager Mark Bond said.
“Council Lifeguards have been patrolling our beaches since 1912 when the first paid lifeguard started on Austinmer beach. Now, we’ve got more than 70 fulltime and casual professional ocean lifeguards working each season.’’
During the winter months, Council’s lifeguards have continued to patrol North Wollongong beach and carry out surf education campaigns at local primary schools, with university students and various community organisations.
“We can’t emphasis enough the importance of understanding the risks of swimming at our beaches and the need to seek and adhere to the advice of Lifeguards and volunteer lifesavers on what you need to do to swim safe at our beaches,’’ Mr Bond said.
“Our message is simple No Flags equals No Swim, only swim on patrolled beaches and if you do get into trouble, stay calm and raise your arm to attract a lifeguard’s attention. These messages remain the same year in and year out and help protect all our beachgoers.’’
This season Council will be trialling an alternative method of shark surveillance and has engaged Touchdown Helicopters over the peak period. Touchdown Helicopters are skilled and experienced in marine creature surveillance and are the NSW Government’s Department of Primary Industry’s preferred contractor for shark surveillance. Touchdown will be the eyes in the sky for the lifeguards and lifesavers during the swimming season.
Mr Bond said it was also important to note that many of beaches have been affected by erosion resulting from storms and big waves over the winter months, and there is scarping and drop-off points in some areas.
“Beachgoers should avoid accessing beaches from the steep drop-offs and children should avoid playing near or tunnelling in these areas,” he said.
“We encourage beach goers to be aware of the beach conditions, read all safety signage and take caution when accessing and using our beaches.
“We want to make sure locals and visitors enjoy a summer of safe swimming.”
For beach safety tips, a safe swimming video and details of patrol hours at our beaches, visit Council’s website.