Training to save lives on Phuket
PHUKET: Phuket’s monsoon season brings with it high waves, strong currents, and regular rescues by Phuket’s lifeguards.
Saturday 30 July 2011, 01:58AM
But just how well are they trained to carry out risky, potentially life-saving manoeuvres? And why have there been cases where sometimes there are no lifeguards on the beaches at all, leaving tourists to perform dangerous rescues themselves?
The Phuket News spoke to the president of the Phuket Lifeguards Club (PLC), Prathaiyuth Chuayuan, who said lifeguards worked hard along Phuket’s beaches, offering advice and rescuing swimmers in trouble.
New lifeguards, employed in a paid role, undergo training from both Thai and Australian trainers at the centre, before getting a certificate and being able to start work.
Lifeguard training involves extensive swimming tests, including in a pool, in the sea during rain, and during high waves or storms. They are taught how to use rescue equipment such as fins, rescue boards or tubes, dinghy, jetskis or lifebuoy, as well as fitness tests. Lifeguards are also trained in first aid and CPR.
Every week, representatives from the PLC and the Phuket Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation (OrBorJor) claim they visit one of the island’s beaches every week to test the lifeguards capability on the beaches. After an unsuccessful rescue, trainers and Mr Prathaiyuth have a meeting with the lifeguards to analyse the incident and discuss ways to improve rescues.
But there have been more than a handful of examples of lifeguards being absent from beaches, with tourists, and other members of the public, having to perform dangerous rescues themselves in order to save lives.
On recent example was just last month when visiting New Zealand tourist Stu Piddington saved the lives of two children and two adults at Naiharn Beach. Lifeguards were in “a meeting” at the time, leaving the beach without any rescuers. There are also other examples where flagged zones are up on the beach but lifeguards are nowhere to be seen.
Mr Prathaiyuth claimed the lifeguards were often monitoring another part of the beach, or could be taking part in another rescue. He did admit, however, that many could also be on breaks. Tourists often reached the person in trouble because they were in the sea with them, and closer, he claimed.
He also claims lifeguards are on duty everyday from 9am to 7pm, and regularly worked late to perform rescues.
Flags are often put out on the beach, with yellow meaning it is safe to swim, and red meaning stay out of the water. Flags that are half yellow and half red indicate a lifeguard-monitored zone, but often these cannot be relied upon to be safe areas, as often the flags are not changed with the tidal currents, and lifeguards are often absent.
Mr Prathaiyuth said when there is a “safe zone’’ indicated on the beach, but a red flag was inside it, swimmers should stay out of the water.
He claims a lack of education about the flags, but also at fault could be a previous lack of information provided by Phuket’s local authorities. However it appears some improvements could be on the way. The PLC and the OrBorJor recently put up more warning signs around Phuket’s beaches, which provide more information to tourists about the beach dangers, and what the flags mean.
The Phuket Tourist Police also now regularly walk along the most notoriously dangerous beaches – Kata, Naiharn, Patong and Karon – handing out brochures to tourists containing information and warnings about the beaches.
New warning signs, in many languages, have also gone up around local beaches.
A lifeguard at Naiharn Beach, Natthakit Srijan, who unsuccessfully tried to save a Russian woman who drowned at the beach last month, said: “It is very sad when we can’t save someone, but we do our best.”
Vitanya Chuayuan, a publicity officer at the PLC, said the main cause of drowning was being caught in rip currents and the swimmer not knowing how to escape a rip.
“There’s are unpredictable during the monsoon season.’’
“We would like to warn tourists to respect the warning signs and flags, and listen to the lifeguards. If you are unsure about what the flags mean, contact the lifeguards and they can advise you.”