Northern beaches: Drowning, rescues, sharks and stinger keep lifesavers busy

ON DUTY: Freshwater Surf Club patrol captain James Crittenden has been involved in a number of rescues so far this summer. Picture: Paul Lemlin Photography
ON DUTY: Freshwater Surf Club patrol captain James Crittenden has been involved in a number of rescues so far this summer. Picture: Paul Lemlin Photography

IT may have been a cooler and quieter time on our beaches so far this summer, but 165 water rescues have already been conducted with one person dying.

Summer is usually the peak time on our beaches, but so far just 945,000 people have visited. This is down on the 2.7 million visitations recorded from September to November 2020.

The cooler and wetter weather, along with COVID-19 restrictions and social distancing rules, have all played a part in keeping visitors away. Despite the lower numbers, a visitor to the northern beaches died after he was pulled unconscious from North Narrabeen Beach on January 25.

Council's lifeguards have attended more than 400 first aid episodes since December 1, while Surf Life Saving (SLS) volunteer lifesavers have had 28 emergency response call outs and requested the help of an ambulance 35 times.

"On the northern beaches, all statistics are down significantly, this is most likely due to the impact of COVID lockdowns and some inclement weather over the Christmas period," a SLS spokesman said.

CLOSED: Swimmers at Dee Why Beach were told to get out of the water following a shark sighting. Picture: Nadine Morton

CLOSED: Swimmers at Dee Why Beach were told to get out of the water following a shark sighting. Picture: Nadine Morton

Sharks have closed beaches five times so far this summer with swimmers at Warriewood, North Curl Curl, Dee Why, North Palm Beach and Manly told to leave the water during the incidents.

Drones are used at a number of beaches to monitor crowds, conditions and also spot sharks with the machines able to automatically detect the size and species of a shark. Drones operate at Palm Beach, Newport, Mona Vale, Warriewood, South Narrabeen, Long Reef and Dee Why, with another two roving droves able to be deployed anywhere across the northern beaches.

SLS Northern Beaches Branch president Tracey Hare-Boyd said COVID has also changed some of the volunteers' protocols.

"If we do suspect someone is COIVD positive or a risk we don't do any rescue breaths or use oxygen equipment, we only do compressions," she said. While anyone with a minor ailment is asked to treat themselves to reduce contact between people.

ON DUTY: Freshwater Surf Club patrol captain James Crittenden on duty on a jet ski. Picture: Paul Lemlin Photography

ON DUTY: Freshwater Surf Club patrol captain James Crittenden on duty on a jet ski. Picture: Paul Lemlin Photography

Despite the changes, Ms Hare-Boyd said the community had been generally compliant.

Northern Beaches Council CEO Ray Brownlee urged the community to always swim on patrolled beaches between the flags, and don't exceed your comfortable water depth or swimming ability.

"We urge beachgoers to be mindful of the risk of COVID-19, ensure they maintain 1.5 metres social distancing - one towel length - and limit gathering in crowds," he said. "Always heed a lifeguard's instructions regarding beach safety and listen for announcements on the public address systems at the beaches and observe signs."

Delicate rescue to save a life

Freshwater Beach. Picture: Simon Bennett

Freshwater Beach. Picture: Simon Bennett

NOT all beach rescues are dramatic and fast, with some requiring delicate, precise action to keep the patient as absolutely still as possible.

James Crittenden joined Freshwater Surf Club as a nipper when he was 16 years old and has risen through the ranks to become a patrol captain.

This summer he's back for his 15th patrol season and while not on duty at the beach with fellow volunteers he spends a lot of time there training.

"I was off duty training and I saw a gentleman who was from Spain and he'd bought a new boogie board and he'd been dumped by a wave on a sandbank," Mr Crittenden said.

The man was delicately taken from the water and treated for spinal injuries.

I was off duty training and I saw a gentleman who was from Spain and he'd bought a new boogie board and he'd been dumped by a wave on a sandbank.

Freshwater Surf Club lifesaver James Crittenden

"A lot of what we do is calming the patients down while we wait for the ambulance to arrive," Mr Crittenden said.

The long time volunteer is also part of Surf Life Saving NSW's support operations in the northern beaches and as part of this he's rostered on out-of-hours for emergency incidents. Recently, he was tasked onto the jet ski to help following a concern for welfare, other times he is tasked to patrol the open waters between beaches and around headlands.

"The jet ski is a highly visible surveillance patrol. I patrol from Long Reef to North Head and I do surveillance at beaches that are not patrolled like Shelly," he said.

Mr Crittenden has conducted many rescues during his 15 years of patrolling beaches, but he's just as likely to get called to a marine sting, medical incident, fall or a broken down vessel while on duty.

"I really love it, it's the wide range of Surf Life Saving volunteers and it's a wide range of ages and a diverse range of career paths," he said. "It's an extension of my friendship group."

Summer on the northern beaches

  • Drowning 1
  • Beach rescues 165
  • Emergency response calls 28
  • Ambulances called to the beach 35
  • Shark sightings 5
  • First aid episodes 413

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