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Phuket Opinion: Getting the Phuket lifeguard crisis dead wrong

PHUKET: Now that the inevitable has started to occur and the drownings without professional lifeguards on Phuket’s beaches have started, it is time for the Phuket Provincial Administration Organisation (PPAO, or OrBorJor) to quit posturing and get down to business. The game is over. It is time to throw in the towel on managing Phuket’s lifeguard situation, and let the municipalities take over.

opinion, tourism, accidents, death, marine,

The Phuket News

Monday 9 October 2017, 12:17PM

A trained Phuket lifeguard watches over swimmers during the dangerous southwest monsoon. Photo: Tanyaluk Sakoot
A trained Phuket lifeguard watches over swimmers during the dangerous southwest monsoon. Photo: Tanyaluk Sakoot

The latest plan announced by PPAO Acting Chief Watcharin Patomwatthanapong for the Navy to train municipal officers sometime in the future is unworkable and dangerous. (See story here.)

In its haste to assert itself over Phuket’s lifeguard crisis, the PPAO has totally missed the point. Their position is that Phuket Lifeguard Services Co Ltd, was no longer managing the service well and that a replacement agency is needed.

It is their right and duty to exercise sound judgement in this regard. What is not right, is that the PPAO is overlooking the most important group in the beach safety puzzle: the lifeguards themselves.

Phuket’s lifeguards have mismanaged nothing. They have done nothing wrong. In fact, many have done a tremendous job of late under very difficult circumstances. For example, there has not been a drowning at Surin Beach in over seven years. This does not happen by accident. The current lifeguards have the skills and the capability to do the job.

All they need is support – support in the form of a living wage in light of Phuket’s skyrocketing cost of living. A wage that reflects the dangers of the job. Plus equipment and beach facilities needed by lifeguards worldwide to do this difficult job properly.

Forcing or coercing Navy or municipal officers that have no interest in becoming an ocean lifeguard, and who do not have the necessary swimming ability and stamina, is a recipe for disaster. These capabilities cannot be gained in a three-day course. Years of experience are needed to be a qualified, journeyman lifeguard on Phuket.

It should be clear by now that the Navy is out of its depth in placing its own trained lifeguards on Phuket’s beaches. We have seen many examples this past week of why this doesn’t work. Navy guards aren’t trained to spot swimmers in distress, do not have sufficient rescue training in rough water, and lack the necessary equipment to do the job.

Attempting to turn Navy or municipal officers into qualified ocean lifeguards will only waste time and resources, when a pool of guards who are trained and ready to work already exist.

BCIS Education Center Phuket

The municipalities now fully appreciate the need for professional lifeguards on Phuket, year-round, without gaps in service. Nearly all of Phuket’s municipalities now want to provide the service themselves.

If the PPAO decided today to turn over the funds to the municipalities, qualified lifeguards could be back on Phuket’s beaches tomorrow. Waiting until November to train unwilling officers a rescue program that has been proven not to work on Phuket’s beaches will only lead to more preventable drownings.

Drownings that can only be prevented by qualified lifeguards who are properly trained and equipped.

It is time to get the guards back on the beaches now, at fair wages and benefits. In November, qualified, experienced ocean lifeguard trainers will be arriving in Phuket. The International Surf Lifesaving Association three-day training is taught by experienced lifeguards recognized as experts throughout the world. (See story here.)

Phuket’s lifeguards have asked them to come and provide this training – which is free. They will also donate equipment that has already been purchased according to the specifications of the lifeguards themselves.

Who knows better what equipment they need to save lives? The PPAO, or the lifeguards themselves?

Ignoring the talent pool of skilled lifeguards already in place, and attempting to coerce unwilling participants to do this dangerous and difficult job is wrong. Dead wrong.

This Opinion article was provided by a long-serving foreign volunteer lifeguard in Phuket who wished to remain anonymous. The Phuket News agrees wholeheartedly with this opinion.



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alan morison | 09 October 2017 - 20:40:29

Let the municipalities take over? You've got to be kidding. Before the Phuket Lifeguard Service, standards at beaches varied. It wasn't unusual to see ''guards'' sleeping in towers. Drownings were at shocking levels. The lifeguard service gave every beach the same standard - and managed the process island-wide by being able to fill gaps for holidays, sickness and days off. ...

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Eagle | 09 October 2017 - 19:24:42

Fair and well written opinion! Clearly this person knows what he is writing about!

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Concernd | 09 October 2017 - 16:44:05

Perhaps the Government should create a Beach Rescue Department under or with the Tourist Police: this department could also run the beach chair renting business , make sure the beaches are kept clean, make sure there are clean toilette and shower faculties etc. the whole operation could get financed with the beach chair umbrella rent income and a small token for the use of the toilette and shower ...

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Pauly44 | 09 October 2017 - 14:35:40

Not sure about all that as the ones I've come across on many Phuket beaches appear lazy, uninterested and even doubling as rental thugs, wouldn't come close to passing the grade where I'm from. 

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simon01 | 09 October 2017 - 12:46:40

The whole world knows that professional life guards are not something that are easy to find. They take years of training and experience. The phuket lifeguards are very good. They are the one asset thet Phuket got right when it came to tourist safety. Then to just get rid of them was just stupid. The beach lifeguards should be the top of the list when it comes to the budget as they firstly save liv...

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