Lifeguards patrol debate: poll 

City beach patrols and times

To see a map showing Newcastle beaches and the hours they are patrolled by council and Surf Lifesaving volunteers, click here.

NEWCASTLE lord mayor Jeff McCloy has stood by the council’s decision to cut lifeguard patrols at some city beaches, saying the savings were a necessary part of the agreed budget.

Cr McCloy said a 30-week patrol season put Newcastle in line with other coastal areas including Gosford and Wyong.

And he said individual swimmers needed to take more responsibility for their safety.

‘‘It’s important to remember that people swim and surf on our beaches – whether patrolled or not – 365 days per year, and each of us needs to take personal responsibility for our safety,’’ Cr McCloy said yesterday.

A near-drowning on Newcastle beach on the weekend has sparked fresh debate over the cuts to the professional lifeguard patrols at several of the city’s beaches.

Friends pulled Nateisha Crowe, 15, from the surf on Sunday morning after she was caught in a rip.

Two others in the group of teenagers from Maitland managed to save themselves only when the water happened to drag them on to a sandbar.

Nobbys, Bar Beach and the Newcastle Ocean Baths are now the only coastal stretches patrolled by Newcastle council lifeguards all year round.

The council lifeguards will patrol other beaches, including Newcastle, Stockton, Dixon Park and Merewether, only from September 21 and only on weekdays.

Volunteer lifesavers will patrol the beaches on weekends and public holidays, alongside a roving council lifeguard.

The changes have drawn fire from lifeguard groups, who argue it may risk the city’s record of 40 years without a beach fatality while a professional lifeguard was on duty.

Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguard Association president Bruce Hopkins said the presence of professional lifeguards and volunteers together on the city’s beaches had clearly been effective.

‘‘To have none [drown] in 40 years, you wouldn’t want to be changing that formula too much,’’ Mr Hopkins said.

‘‘As good a job as [volunteer lifesavers] do, they don’t have the experience that a professional lifeguard would have.’’

Newcastle councillor Nuatali Nelmes said the city’s coastal location ‘‘absolutely’’ came with a responsibility to have professional lifeguards on regular patrol at most beaches.

‘‘There’s not enough savings in the budget to make these kind of cuts worthwhile,’’ Cr Nelmes said.

‘‘The more people you have on the beach, the better.’’

It is understood the cuts will save the council about $150,000 a year.

Cr Nelmes said she would fight to reinstate full patrols if there was ‘‘an inkling’’ the 7-6 vote to approve the budget cuts in June would go a different way.

‘‘I just hope there’s not a repeat of what happened [at Newcastle Beach] on the weekend,’’ Cr Nelmes said.

Hunter Surf Lifesaving chief executive Rhonda Scruton urged all swimmers to stay out of the water when beaches were unpatrolled.

‘‘It was unseasonably hot weather [at the weekend] and people just have to be aware that you have got to respect the ocean,’’ she said.

When the patrol season started in full on September 21, the flags would go up at all beaches as usual, Ms Scruton said.

She believed most swimmers would notice little difference between the volunteer and council lifeguard patrols.

‘‘The general person on the beach will still see the flags ...   not much will change,’’ Ms Scruton said.

Save the Newcastle Lifeguards campaign spokesman Ted Bassingthwaighte said he believed some swimmers would have been unaware of the changes to the patrol schedules, particularly at Newcastle beach, which had a long-standing reputation as a patrolled beach.

Signs at entrances to Newcastle beach warn ‘‘No Lifesaving Service Here Unless Flags Displayed’’ but some swimmers told the Newcastle Herald yesterday they had not noticed them.

‘‘All the conditions were right for tragedy [on Sunday],’’ Mr Bassingthwaighte said.

‘‘It could have been all over the other way.’’


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