Lifeguards plead with New Zealanders to be safe in the water after worst annual drowning rate in a decade

There are three days of the year to go but New Zealand has already hit its worst annual drowning rate in a decade.

Provisional statistics from Water Safety New Zealand show there have been 91 preventable drownings in 2022.

With record numbers of people hitting the country's beaches during the summer holidays surf lifesavers are pleading with people to be sensible and safe. 

A much quieter patrol was out at Mount Manganui beach on Thursday but Wednesday's massive crowds resulted in 83 rescues.

"It got really gnarly around 5pm, 6pm right on the low tide which caught a lot of people out," Surf Lifesaving NZ Eastern Region lifesaving manager Chaz Gibbons-Campbell told Newshub.

A rip coupled with an outgoing tide wreaked havoc and they had to call out extra lifeguards and source more rescue vessels. 

"People were getting caught on the inshore currents and being dragged into this escalator rip which was dragging them out to sea. Lifeguards were kept extremely busy past their finish time yesterday conducting rescues up until 7:30 last night," Gibbons-Campbell said

Conditions further north at Whangamata beach in Coromandel were also dangerous on Wednesday, with 26 people having to be pulled from the water. 

Large surf even closed the beach for a few hours on Thursday.

"It's been extremely busy on the beach these holidays, potentially more than we expected.

"A lot of what we are dealing with is people not listening and getting themselves into trouble," head lifeguard Brianna Norris said.

Meanwhile, there's also another hazard for beachgoers - an unwelcome influx of sea lice.

"They are particularly bad this year, more than other seasons. The majority are over the high tide mark, where people are sitting down with their towels and stuff complaining of some irritation and some itching," Gibbons-Campbell said

But lifeguards said the sea lice are the least of their worries. It doesn't seem to matter how often it's repeated, lifeguards still need people to swim between the flags.