Even before the peak season started in earnest, the City of Cape Town’s lifeguards and their search and rescue partners have had their hands full with drownings and near-drownings. Read more below:
The number of drownings and near-drownings that have already occurred this festive season is a serious cause for concern. If the current statistics are anything to go by, the City’s lifeguards and their partners are going to have their hands full during this summer season, especially during the upcoming public holidays that are popular beach days. Already lifeguards have prevented an asthmatic person from drowning at Strand Beach, saved three people at Mnandi Beach from drowning, and rescued a 15-year-old girl at Milnerton Beach.
While the lifeguards may come across as being quite stern, they are sensitive people too and keeping people safe is something they take very seriously.
According to Ashley Bess, a senior beach lifeguard based at the Strand Beach, ‘The upcoming long weekend, Day of Goodwill, and New Year’s Day are the busiest and scariest time for us as lifeguards due to the large number of people who visit the beach. After a drowning occurs, it is a very emotional time for the lifeguard community. I try to encourage my team not to give up on lifesaving after a tragedy has occurred. It is important that they focus on the number of lives they have saved through their vigilance and also the countless numbers of people that they have prevented from getting into trouble through being proactive.’
The City has often stressed that safety at our beaches is a shared responsibility between members of the public and lifeguards. It is unfair to expect those entrusted with lifeguarding to solely shoulder responsibility for the safety of beach-goers. Most incidents can be prevented if members of the public take note of the basic tips to ensure the safety of their loved ones and themselves.‘We also emphasise among our lifeguards that prevention is better than cure. It is important to anticipate trouble and prevent it, rather than react. We proactively direct people to the designated bathing area, keep a watchful eye out for people who may seem to be intoxicated before entering the water, and we encourage parents to keep a close eye on their children when they are in the water. Even in the off-season, our water safety strategy is in full swing. I spend time with the local schools teaching children about water safety, where and when to swim, and what to do if they are caught in a rip tide,’ added Ashley.
The City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services, Councillor Anda Ntsodo, spent a few hours with Ashley and his team this week to experience what a typical day is like for a lifeguard.
‘I take my hat off to the men and women in red and yellow who are a familiar sight at our beaches. It takes a special person to do what they are doing and I must commend all of them for their sterling work. I also witnessed first-hand the behaviour of some of the members of the public who broke the basic safety rules by swimming outside the designated bathing areas where no lifeguards were present and leaving children unsupervised in the water.
‘The drownings that have already occurred weigh heavily on us and I would like to offer my sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of these drowning victims,’ said Councillor Ntsodo.
In addition to keeping members of the public safe, the search and rescue agencies sometimes also have to worry about sea-life in distress.
Craig Lambinon of the National Sea Rescue Institute said, ‘I got a call to say that a shark was thought to be trapped in the Strand tidal pool. Upon inspection, we established that there were 10 cow sharks and 17 stingrays which had gotten caught in the tidal pool when the tide went out. We were pleased that they all swam out with the high tide at around 03:00’.
‘I am appealing to members of the public to work together with us and also help by taking responsibility for their safety,’ added Councillor Ntsodo.