“May until October is a dangerous period. The monsoon weather causes high, powerful waves – as well as deadly rip tides – in which people can easily drown,” warned Prathaiyut Chuayuan, Director of Phuket Life Guard Service.
At the peak of the “danger season” in August last year, four people drowned within four days, all at separate beaches: Nai Harn, Kata, Patong and Surin, he noted.
“And lifeguards are only on duty from 8:30am to 6:30pm. Please do not swim at any time outside those hours, because if you get in to trouble there will be no one around to help you,” Mr Prathaiyut urged.
Only two weeks ago did Rawai Mayor Aroon Solos urge beach goers to heed the lifeguards’ warning flags. Red means no swimming, while red-and-yellow means lifeguard supervision only between the flags.
Mr Aroon’s warning came on April 17, when he was present at Nai Harn to witness lifeguards pull 20-year-old Bangkok tourist Maneewan Mutthong unconscious from the water. She was rushed to hospital, but died the next day.
“Nai Harn can particularly be dangerous beach with rip currents, yet many continue to ignore the red flags posted there warning not to go swimming,” he said.
“Everyone needs to heed to these warnings, because every life is valuable,” Mayor Arun urged.
CASTING A WIDE NET
Lifeguard chief Prathaiyut confirmed to The Phuket News that 98 lifeguards will be on duty at 38 surf-watch stations at 13 of Phuket’s most popular beaches from May through March next year, as mandated under the renewed contract with the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (OrBorJor) to provide their essential service.
But their efforts have been expanded to also include the handing out of multilingual brochures to tourists to explain the dangers of the surf.
“The OrBorJor is responsible for making the brochure, but Phuket lifeguards distribute it and even hand it out to hotels,” explained Witanya Chuayuan, Deputy Director of the Phuket Life Guard Service.
“We also have signs posted warning swimmers of the dangers in English, Russian, Chinese and Thai,” she added.
Phuket lifeguards have also launched a series of events to teach children surf survival skills, bringing together other key local organisations with extensive experience in teaching youngsters how to stay safe in the water
“Local board-riding clubs and even jet-ski operators join us for these surf survival training and swimming sessions,” Ms Witanya said. (See page 16.)
“These people are a great help, as they can help us to teach people and provide the equipment needed – and they already keep an eye out for swimmers in trouble at the beaches,” she added.
Hotels have been brought into the fold as well. Laguna Phuket Resorts & Hotels often send staff for surf training, as do the Pullman Phuket Arcadia at Naithon Beach, the Centara Grand Beach Resort Phuket in Karon and the Amari Phuket Resort at the south end of Patong, said Mr Prathaiyut.
“Even officers from Sirinath National Park and the Royal Thai Navy Third Area Command help and support us. They provide assistance in emergencies and help us to conduct training sessions,” he said.
Phuket’s reputation for having skilled lifeguards is starting to spread, with organisations outside Phuket looking to the island’s lifeguards to train people elsewhere along the Andaman coast, Mr Prathaiyut noted.
“The Royal Thai Air Force Wing 5 base in Prachuap Khiri Khan approached us to train children and teenagers in their province, and teenagers from Krabi, Trang and Satun provinces have also been sent to us for training,” he added.
But back on the island, attention is being given to lifeguard towers in the hope of preventing more deaths in the dangerous surf.
“Lifeguard towers are very important, because they make it much easier to see people in trouble. This means we can get to them quicker, and hopefully keep them alive,” Mr Prathaiyut said.
Phuket has 12 lifeguard towers, but works are underway repairing five of them to the tune of B200,000, confirmed one official at the OrBorJor Tourism and Sport office, who specifically asked not to be named.
The five towers undergoing repairs comprise three in Patong as well as one at Kamala and another at Nai Harn.
“There is also a tower at Kata Noi, which has been provided by the Kata Thani Hotel, and two new towers soon will be built at Surin and Karon beaches, each costing about B1 million,” the official said.
“And we are currently receiving bids to build four more towers: one at Kata, another at Naiyang and two more at Karon,” he added.