Record crowds of beachgoers, more than a thousand rescues, challenging heatwave conditions, and a 900% increase in bluebottle stings have made it a summer that Queensland’s lifesavers and lifeguards won’t soon forget.
Statistics released by Surf Life Saving Queensland (SLSQ) today reveal its lifeguards and lifesavers protected more than 8.6 million beachgoers across the state over summer – a 13% increase on the year before, making it one of the busiest summers in SLSQ’s history.
Importantly, during this time, they combined to directly save the lives of 1,400 people across the state to ensure there were zero drownings on Queensland beaches during the peak summer months.
Remarkably, 1,040 of these rescues – or roughly 75% – were outside of the flags, including 84 which occurred more than 1km away from the nearest patrolled area.
In addition, SLSQ’s lifesavers and lifeguards also treated 55,175 injured first aid patients, up from 11,700 last summer.
Of these, there were 38, 135 bluebottle stings recorded by lifesavers and lifeguards in Queensland, almost ten times more than the 3,696 stings recorded across the state last year.
Lifesavers and lifeguards fielded extended services across much of the peak period, while SLSQ’s Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service (WLRHS) also boosted patrols at various times, and was involved in two dramatic rescues.
The WLRHS spotted a swimmer in a dangerous rip off Burleigh on December 29, immediately winching the struggling swimmer to safety, and assisted the crew of an overturned boat at Tallebudgera Bar on January 9.
SLSQ chief operating officer George Hill ESM praised the contributions of all patrolling members and the WLRHS, saying their efforts had been nothing short of extraordinary in what were largely testing conditions.
“The statistics really speak for themselves in terms of how busy our patrolling members have been over the past few months. We saw record crowds of people flock to the beach, which always makes it challenging, but that’s what we train for,” Mr Hill said.
“More than 1,000 patients were pulled from the surf over summer, and these are all people who were able to return home safely at the end of the day thanks only to the efforts of our lifesavers and lifeguards on patrol.
“The most important thing for us though, is there were zero drownings on Queensland beaches during summer, and that’s something that we’re extremely proud of. To see over 8 million people head to the beach and every single one of them to get home safely is a wonderful outcome for us and a wonderful outcome for Queensland,” he said.
While pleased with the summer season, Mr Hill admitted the number of people continuing to swim outside of the flags was an ongoing frustration.
“There were some close calls, there’s no doubt about that, and they often stemmed from the fact that people were putting their lives on the line by swimming outside of the flags,” he said.
“I can’t stress enough how dangerous it is to enter the water at an unpatrolled location. Even if you’re an experienced swimmer, the ocean is an unpredictable environment and conditions can change in the blink of an eye.
“Make no mistake about it, when you swim at an unpatrolled spot, you’re not only risking your own life but you’re also risking the lives of our patrolling members,” he said.
2016/17 Summer Statistics (1 December 2016 – 28 February 2017):
Rescues – 1,400
First aid treatments – 55,202
Bluebottle stings – 38,138
Beach visitation – 8,600,000 (approx.)