Danger in surf as patrols go on hold

STEPHEN Leahy knows all too well that the dangers of the surf do not just disappear when lifeguard patrols start their winter hiatus.

Patrols officially ended last weekend and Mr Leahy, who is the lifeguard co-ordinator for northern NSW, said people willing to brave the colder waters should remain extra vigilant when surf life savers are not on patrol.

He said people should always make the effort to swim between the flags at patrolled beaches, but in the absence of lifeguards other safety measures could be taken.

"At any time when beaches are unpatrolled, if you are going to go to the beach alone, tell somebody where you are going and what time you are expected back," Mr Leahy said.

"Try and swim near somebody else so that if you get into trouble, they will see you. Also, become aware of what a rip looks like, either by talking with life savers or visiting the Surf Life Saving Australia website. It is always good to have knowledge."

His warnings follow the release of the latest report into surf drownings on the NSW coast, which have shown that men are more at risk then women, making up a staggering 32 out of the 36 people who drowned during the 2006-07 swimming season.

The annual Coastal Drowning Report also showed that 28 of the 36 were NSW residents, but 23 were born overseas, which meant a lack of knowledge and experience could also have played a part in the drownings.

The report said men most at risk were those aged between 30 and 39, followed by 50 to 59-year-olds.

"For older men, in the 50 plus age group, the most common cause of drowning is due to a medical condition," Mr Leahy said. "They either have a heart attack or a stroke and collapse in the surf."

He recommends that older men who participate in any physical activity should have regular medical check-ups.

"And swimming at patrolled locations will ensure rescue crews are there to immediately assist you."

However, Mr Leahy said young men were not immune to the dangers and often put themselves at risk due to a carefree attitude. "Young males are more inclined to take risks and will swim wherever they want," Mr Leahy said.

"They will enter the water where they are unable to physically cope with the conditions." People who want to swim under the supervision of lifeguards throughout the winter months should head to Salt, the only beach in the northern region to be patrolled 365 days a year.

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