Byron Shire beachgoers are being urged to stick to patrolled beaches and to swim between the flags, following the death of a 32-year-old man at New Brighton Beach on Monday.
Emergency services were called to the beach at about 4.45pm after the man was located unconscious in the water.
Members of the public, including an off-duty nurse, pulled the man to shore and commenced CPR, but he died at the scene.
A second man was also pulled from the water and is now in a stable condition in hospital.
The tragic incident is a sobering reminder of the dangers of swimming at unpatrolled beaches.
And on January 2, a 62-year-old man was pulled from the surf by patrol members at Broken Head. Surf Life Saving NSW State Operations Centre reported that he was unconscious at the time, but breathing, after being dumped by a wave just before midday.
The man regained consciousness before being transported to Byron Bay Hospital by ambulance.
With sun-drenched skies drawing tens of thousands of visitors and tourists to the Shire’s beaches, local surf lifesaving clubs have had their work cut out over the past week, having to make multiple rescues and continually herd swimmers away from potential danger.
‘We have a big mix of people, from diverse backgrounds, visiting the Shire this year, and with that comes different levels of competency in the water and different levels of surf safety knowledge,’ said Michael Berti, a patrolling member of the Byron Bay Surf Lifesaving Club.
‘We really want to get the message out there to stick to patrolled beaches and to swim between the flags.’
‘That applies to everyone, even if you’re a competent swimmer and know your way around the ocean, because other people on the beach will see you swimming in your own spot and follow you and then get into trouble because they’re not as competent as you are.’
One spot where this has happened regularly has been at the western end of Wategoes, known colloquially as ‘Bullshits’, where a strong sweep has been pulling unsuspecting swimmers down toward The Pass.
‘That’s been a pretty bad spot for us this year because the sweep is extra strong,’ Mr Berti said.
‘People get stuck in the sweep, and suddenly they’re floating past the rocks toward The Pass, and that can be a bit scary.’
Strong sweeps have been a feature of the easterly and southerly swells that have been predominant on the North Coast since Christmas.
This has meant that, while the water is enticingly warm and clear, there are risks for those who are not particularly strong swimmers.
‘You need to be aware of your own level of ability in the water,’ Mr Berti said.
‘And be aware of the conditions you’re stepping into. If you’re not sure, ask one of us, we’re really happy to help you.’
As always, if you do find yourself in a difficult situation, do your best to stay calm and signal for help by raising a single arm in the air and wait to be rescued.
‘Ultimately we just want everyone to be safe,’ Mr Berti said. ‘That includes us [the lifesavers], because it also puts us at risk if we have to go out and rescue someone.’
The region’s rivers and other waterways are also starting to become busier with the warmer weather, with visitors and locals alike dusting off their runabouts for a leisurely cruise.
Jonathan Wilcock from Brunswick Heads Marine Rescue said the key to safety on the water was preparation and knowing the conditions.
‘You need to make sure you’ve got your life jackets and all the other requirements for a safe voyage, including making sure that you’re freshly fuelled up,’ Mr Wilcock said.
Marine Safety app
‘We also suggest that you register your trip with us using the Marine Safety app, so that if something does happen, we know roughly where you are and when you’re supposed to be back.’
‘It’s also about being aware of the weather and the chance of any changes coming through while you’re out. Things can change pretty quickly out there. If it’s not looking great then we’d really invite you to reconsider going out.’
An updated version of the Marine Safety app has recently come out, with new features to improve the safety of boaters.
For more information about marine safety, visit marinerescuensw.com.au. For beach safety: beachsafety.org.au.