New Zealand beaches are very beautiful. We New Zealanders love the water, and swimming, surfing, boogy boarding, boating, sailing, kayaking and fishing are all very popular water activities. But a healthy respect for water – both the sea, rivers, lakes and even swimming pools, is important. Observing some simple safety rules, will ensure safe swimming.
New Zealand's West Coast beaches are a surfie's paradise. But generally they are also quite dangerous. With often big surf, and under ties and rips that can develop, you need to have a strong swimmer, and experienced in the sea. If you are not familiar with a beach, it is a good policy to try and talk to local people and find out if it is a safe swimming beach, and what you need to look out for.
Our East Coast beaches are generally safer for swimming. But you do need to understand that conditions change frequently, with the weather. Like the west coast, you can get rips that move.
o Even on the East Coast it is advisable to always swim at a beach with a surf patrol or life guards . You will see the red and yellow flags stuck in the sand on the beach. You will probably notice more people in this area. You should always swim BETWEEN the flags. This is the area the lifeguards have checked out and consider safe. It is also in front of their observation post. If you did get into difficulty they would almost certainly see you, and come to help.
o Always stay within your depth- that is – no deeper than your chest height.
o Try and swim with friends or other people. If you are traveling on your own, it is even more important to swim in a safe location, where lifeguards are on duty. If you are unsure of the water conditions, ask the life guards who are easily recognizable in their red and yellow costumes. Or ask someone who lives locally. They will know their beach, and the conditions for the weather and season.
o Never swim in clothes, especially jeans and / or cotton T shirts. They become very heavy once wet, and if you get into trouble, you will really struggle.
o If you are using a boogy board, you should use flippers on your feet.
o If you are caught in a rip – Do not Panic! Paddle / swim toward the breaking waves. Do not try and swim against the rip. You will get tired and get into trouble. If you still feel you are unable to get out yourself, raise your arm and call for help.
o Look out for jetskiis! We have had a few unfortunate accidents when neither party has seen the other.
How to Look for Rips
If you see smooth water on a surf beach ……….. do not think that is the safest place to swim.
You can tell there might be a rip if the water is churning, and / or a different color, and also look for a break in the wave pattern. If the water is smooth, while the sea around it is waves, it will probably be a rip. You are better swimming in the waves.
Swimming in Rivers
o Never jump from rocks, or heights into a river. You do not know what is under the surface. Nor are you likely to know the depth.
o Rivers can have strong currents, especially on an outgoing tide.
Boating and Kayaking
There are often boats and in particular, kayaks for rental in many places around New Zealand. Again it is important to observe safety rules.
o ALWAYS wear a life jacket.
o Always check both the weather and the tides before kayaking. Remember, if you kayak somewhere you have to be able to get back. If the wind is against you, it will take much longer. Paddling against an outgoing tide is very difficult.
o If you are not a competent swimmer, or an inexperienced kayaker, think carefully about where you go. There are plenty of safe places to kayak.
o Rivers can be more dangerous than the sea. Find out about the river.
o Kayak with others.
o Take a little time to learn some basic safety tips and strategys.
o Lakes can be very cold if you fall out of your kayak. You are generally better to go around the edge rather than cut across a lake. Even though this may be a longer route. Again – find out about the lake from locals.
o Wearing a wetsuit is advisable.
o Tell someone where you are going.
New Zealand is a great place for fishing. If you are fishing from rocks, check with local people that it is safe. It is also advisable to wear a life jacket, especially if the sea is rough. Sometimes a change in weather, or an incoming tide can catch fishermen unawares. Find out what the weather conditions are going to be, before you go. Every year we have several fishermen swept off rocks.
This may all sound a little daunting, but it is not really. You need to know how competent you are at swimming. If you have little experience swimming in the sea, ensure you stay close to shore and observe the above suggestions. Playing safely, and checking weather and water conditions will make the difference between safe fun or potential danger.
Enjoy New Zealand's beaches, lakes, rivers and pools. The water is great fun.