Stay safe at the sea

Thousands of holiday-makers will be heading to Monwabisi Beach in Khayelitsha in the coming days.

With the festive season already upon us and thousands of people expected to visit the beaches, the City of Cape Town has urged all beach goers to be vigilant and pay close attention to the signage.

At Monwabisi Beach, swimmers are reminded of the dangerous rip currents.

The City said five men had drowned at Monwabisi Beach in the last two years due to a combination of behavioural factors and the dangerous water conditions.

The City said Monwabisi Beach will have 16 lifeguards assigned for duty on a rotational basis during the peak season, which runs until January 31, and 12 lifeguards between February 1 and April 9.

The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) is also in the process of establishing a satellite station at Monwabisi, which will shorten the response time to incidents.

NSRI communications officer, Craig Lambinon, confirmed that additional lifeguards would be placed at the beach.

He called on parents to strictly supervise their children. He said if people consume alcohol at the beach they are putting at risk their lives and the lives of lifeguards. He called on the public not to litter and obey all the rules at the beach.

The City said more than 1.5 million people flocked to the City’s beaches during the peak summer season each year.

Mayoral committee member for safety and security; and social services, JP Smith, said rip currents were one of the main causes of drownings at beaches each year.

He said a rip current was stronger and could move faster than an Olympic swimmer.

He warned beach users that they should only swim where a lifeguard was on duty and only swim between the lifeguard flags, which indicate a safe swimming zone on beaches.

He said you could not always see currents and they often do not stay in one place which is why people should only swim in the safe swimming areas indicated by lifeguards.

He described a rip current as a strong, narrow surface current that flows rapidly away from the shore. He added that rip currents form when excess water that has accumulated along a shore, due to wind and waves, rushes back suddenly to deeper waters, also called a rip tide.

“These ‘rivers’ of current produced by water draining from the beach and back out to sea happen frequently. Often rip currents move slowly enough to barely be detected. Given the right circumstances of waves and beach profile, they can develop into currents moving at speeds of up to two metres per second – faster than any of us can swim.

“Ranging in size from just a few metres to hundreds of metres, their pull can range to just outside the breaking waves to over two hundred metres from shore. As with all risks, avoiding rip currents altogether is safest.”

Mr Smith said they were committed to doing all they can to ensure the safety of pool or beach users. But he pleaded with parents and guardians to share this responsibility by keeping an eye on their children.

He said lifeguards and City officials such as law enforcement officers were on duty not to be child carers but to ensure the safety of all beach users.

Mr Smith said on peak days, the large number of people visiting beaches makes it difficult for lifeguards to see if someone is in distress and they are under constant pressure to monitor all swimmers.

He said it was not fair to expect lifeguards to supervise children in the water in place of a parent.

He said alcohol was one of the leading causes of drowning and was an issue of concern for the City.

He said every year the City’s law enforcement officers confiscate large amounts of alcohol from the beaches.

However, he said the problem of people swimming while under the influence of alcohol persists. He pointed out that not only does this behaviour put the individual in question in danger, but also other swimmers and those lifeguards tasked with ensuring their safety.

“We urge citizens not to allow family members and friends to go into the water if they have consumed alcohol and to report any drunk persons to the lifeguard or law enforcement officer on duty,” he said.

Mr Smith said in terms of the use of the City of Cape Town’s public spaces, the consumption of alcohol is forbidden as stipulated in the Streets, Public Places and Prevention of Noise Nuisances By-law.

Any emergencies or distress calls regarding a drowning incident can be reported to the City’s emergency number: Dial 107 from a landline or 021 480 7700 from a cellphone.