Anyone who risks swimming at any of Wollongong’s 10 unpatrolled beaches could get a tap on the shoulder from a friendly city council lifeguard this summer.
Lifeguards started visiting the unpatrolled beaches on Sundays and public holidays on December 22 and will continue doing so until the end of January as they try to educate swimmers about the dangers and gather data. Lifesavers will also assist with roving visits during the week.
‘‘We’re out there handing education material on beach safety, we’re talking to people about signage and hazards at those locations and directing them on to the nearest patrolled beach,’’ Wollongong beach services co-ordinator Jason Foye said.
‘‘We’re very fortunate in Wollongong that we do have 17 patrolled beaches. Quite often those unpatrolled beaches are often only 500 to 600 metres, a kilometre away from a patrolled beach.’’
Mr Foye said the lifeguards were also surveying beachgoers to see why they were going to unpatrolled beaches and if they understood surf safety signs and the new quick response (QR) codes.
‘‘We’re trying to collect data to inform any future decisions we do make in those areas [unpatrolled beaches].’’
The QR codes have been installed on signs at unpatrolled beaches. Visitors can scan their smartphones over the codes and download safety information from Surf Life Saving Australia’s Beach Safety website about specific beaches in 34 languages. The website directs swimmers to the nearest patrolled beach and has fact sheets on rips, bluebottles and other hazards in 18 languages.
Mr Foye said the QR codes would be included on signs at patrolled beaches in the next few weeks.
‘‘We also understand not everyone has a smartphone, that’s why we have people out there actively engaging the community as well.’’
The drowning statistics show younger males are over-represented and that age group had smartphones, so it made sense to target them.
Other measures introduced to prevent drownings at Puckeys Beach, one of the most popular unpatrolled spots, included controlled access so people have to walk past warning signs, a patrol tower at Fairy Meadow, CCTV cameras, extra lifeguards at Fairy Meadow and an emergency response beacon.