Red and yellow flags will be hoisted at surf lifesaving clubs across the Hunter this Saturday, with beachgoers being warned to expect a summer like no other.
Hotter than average temperatures forecast by the Bureau of Meteorology, coupled with more Australians holidaying locally rather than overseas thanks to COVID-19 travel restrictions, mean beachgoers are expected to flock to Australian beaches in greater numbers than ever this patrol season.
A beach visit is expected to look a little different this year as well, with volunteers donning personal protective equipment, and social distancing rules meaning everyone must be 1.5m, or a beach towel length, apart.
Hunter Surf Lifesaving president Henry Scruton said the changes were a necessary public safety measure that meant patrolling volunteers could focus solely on keeping swimmers safe in the water.
“We’re predicting large numbers of beachgoers this year,” he said.
“With no overseas visitors, there’ll be a lot more visitors from interstate and within the NSW bubble.
“I’m sure they’ll all be flocking to our beautiful beaches as the temperatures rise.”
The beach is expected to sound a little different too, with broadcast communications now including reminders of COVID-safe practices, Mr Scruton said.
“It’s all around social distancing,” he said.
“The broadcasting system will be used to remind beachgoers of the Public Safety Act.
“It will say something like: “Be aware of social distancing and, if you’ve had your swim, you might consider heading off so others can come and enjoy the water”.
“I’m expecting the community to be really accommodating as this is to protect them at the beach.”
COVID-19 isn’t the only concern for those patrolling the beach.
Surf Life Saving Australia figures revealed this month that the 2019-2020 season was a record season for all the wrong reasons, with drowning-related fatalities above a 16-year average.
During the summer beach patrol season (October to April), 235 coastal and ocean fatalities were recorded, 125 of those drowning-related, the highest since the 2015-2016 season.
The majority of these deaths involved swimming at unpatrolled locations, alcohol and drugs, and not wearing a lifejacket.
Men made up 86% of coastal drowning deaths, with the 20 to 29 age group the highest.
“We’re the good guys,” Mr Scruton said.
“We’re the friendly ones, dressed in red and yellow, trying to keep everyone safe in the water.
“But we need swimmers to do the right thing as well.
“That means swimming between the flags for a start.”
With 173,865 members and 314 affiliated Surf Life Saving clubs, Surf Life Saving Australia represents the largest volunteer movement of its kind in the world.
Over the years, more than 685,000 people have been rescued by a surf lifesaver on Australian beaches.
Hunter Surf Lifesaving will raise its red and yellow flags at Nobbys Beach on Saturday 26 September at 9am.
The event marks the start of the 103rd season of patrolling Hunter beaches.
The group’s 8,000 members will be on the beach every weekend until the end of April 2021, with an additional 62 new lifesavers starting patrols this weekend.