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Karon beach, one of the star Phuket beaches without lifeguards

Danger: Phuket Pulls Lifeguards Off All Beaches

Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Phuketwan News Analysis

THERE are no lifeguards on any of the beaches on the popular holiday resort island of Phuket as a wrangle about who pays for equipment and training places the lives of swimmers at risk.

The island's administrative body, the Orborjor, has also taken away surf boards and other paraphernalia that could be vital if someone finds themselves in distress and signals for help.

Phuket's reputation as a safe year-round destination has already been damaged by the revelation that needless drownings took place on popular west coast beaches all through the dangerous monsoon season that runs from April to November.

News that the island has no official lifeguards on beaches including Patong, Karon and Kata comes as the high season begins and thousands of tourists flock to the island for holidays.

''To have thousands of visitors and locals unprotected at Phuket's beaches is just amazing,'' one water safety expert told Phuketwan, preferring to remain anonymous.

Having only last month introduced insurance for jet-skis after an international uproar over scandalous extortion scams on its beaches, Phuket now faces the prospect of a new round of diplomatic anger.

It is difficult for anyone from countries where the safety of people in the water is a high priority to understand how a contractual dispute could be allowed to leave tourists at risk.

Yet that is what is happening as an argument about funding runs out of control once again. Even locals are angry.

Phuketwan was advised that the equipment had been taken from the beaches by a contact who operates a small business at a southern beach, and who realises the potential harm that lack of lifeguards and equipment will cause.

However, the elected CEO of the Orborjor, Paiboon Upatising, sees it differently. He said yesterday that the contract with the private company to provide lifeguards had ended. As a result, the Orborjor had also taken away from the beaches the life-saving equipment it owned.

''We will probably have lifeguards again by early next year,'' he said. ''High season is a safer time for swimming.''

The Orborjor has to again go through the process of calling for tenders for the lifeguard contract, a process that in the past has led to Phuket's beaches being unprotected for many months.

Even with the lifeguards in place, drownings at Karon, Patong, and other well-known beaches increased dramatically in the monsoon season this year . . . just as resorts took up a ''summer'' marketing campaign designed to persuade visitors that Phuket was a great year-round destination.

While the Orborjor has just won an award for anti-corruption procedures, Khun Paiboon's attitude to the safety of visitors and locals in the water will not impress ambassadors and honorary consuls.

''People come to Phuket in high season to have fun,'' the water safety expert said. ''There are still waves in high season. People drink, and then go in the water. At some beaches, there are not even warning signs about the dangers.

''Some people who come as visitors have very little experience in the water. It's a highly dangerous situation to leave the beaches without lifeguards.''

One group that could help, the Phuket Lifesaving Club, is unable to submit a tender because it would need to change to a society first. One club contact said that the club had done as much as it could to help the Orborjor, where the concern seemed to be more about contractual rights than lives.

Much of the problem stems from the tendering system, which leaves the Orborjor unable to find the right answer to the the core question: What's it worth to save lives?

A second question arises. What will the cost be to Thailand's tourism industry when holidaymakers learn there is no protection at Phuket's star beaches?
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Comments have been disabled for this article.


Mmm, i spent the "monsoon" season swimming at patong beach when the "lifeguards" were there and people still drowned, the biggest issue is no signage warning punters of the dangers, that would be more value than the beach boys who rarely acted to stop people and spent most of their time chatting up farang chicks.

Posted by up-to-you on December 2, 2009 08:52


Nai Harn beach yesterday.. Mill pond calm, high season water..

Yet the red flags flying all along the beach indicating no swimming.

Then people wonder why visitors ignore the warnings.

Posted by LivinLOS on December 2, 2009 09:44


On Kata and Karon the lifeguards were a waste of time and money, a very sad state of affairs here on Phuket. ''Please get off the plane, leave you money and go home'' should be the slogan here on Phuket nowadays.

Posted by Peter J Notley on December 2, 2009 11:11


they want volunteers, let all westeners pay for it! suckers..... phuket is dying and taxi stand in naithonbury charge 900 bath for a ride to patong! no wonder people go elsewhere.... for god's sake phuket, WAKE UP !!!!!

Posted by jojo on December 2, 2009 12:38


Unbelievable but true, TIT. In Europe there is even in a public swimming pool a lifeguard. What will happen, if a child drowns in Patong or Karon beach?

Posted by Hunterg on December 2, 2009 14:07


Properly trained lifeguards would make a huge difference to safety in Phuket and to the confidence of visitors to the island. Many visitors to Phuket cannot swim, have "one too many" or simply take risks they would not take when in their own country.

I fail to understand why the authorities cannot get this organised and do so in a co-ordinated manner. How many more visitors do we need to send home in a box before positive action will be taken?

Posted by risky on December 2, 2009 16:12


Nobody gives a damn about human life here. This is the east and life is cheap, just note all the drownings, killings, Murders, accidents on the roads. For everyone who dies, ten babies will replace them.

Phuket has lost its international shine as a prime holiday destination. It is now far too late to stem the tide of misery descending on this once wonderful island.

The new motto is " Make Money Quick !!!"
MONEY is lord and master here. Pity not much of it around these days? I wonder why ????

Posted by Dinky on December 2, 2009 18:06


It is not only farang who die in the surf. A lot of burmese and thais drown also. I remember some sad stories of kids taken by the sea this year.

First of all, a public beach is not a resort, not an all inclusive safe place to be. There are even more dangers in Phuket, like these box jellies.

If you visit some nice beaches a little more remote, there are no signs, no nothing. People do take care about themselves. Or they check what the natives are doing (always a good idea). Because in the end, you go swimming.

I am sorry for everyone who drowns, but it was his/her choice. Specially with alcohol or fat food or getting a lot sun right before. No need to behave so risky.

That said, I strongly agree, that at places like Patong or Kata the tourism industry is responsible for the illusion of the "all easy". Greeting the vacation feeling, easy access to drinks, etc. The industry wants tourists to be carefree and spend their money, having a good time.

So it is the f***ing duty of everyone profiting from this, that they keep their guests safe, even when they behave stupid, because, that stupid behavior is what they want in the first place.

You make a dangerous beach a cash cow, then get enough properly trained life savers on. Otherwise every dead soul shall haunt you and put your life to misery!

Posted by Lena on December 2, 2009 18:08


OK so the Thai life savers are not up to par but... seen the figures on drownings in rips etc on Aussie beaches? Good grief cannot people get it into their heads that the sea is beautiful but it can be dangerous!

Is anybody responsible for their own actions any I saw the news of a major part of a, less than aware, family drown in S.Melbourne (Mornington Peninsular.. ) even with a whole team of well qualified life savers including RIBS.on duty.too much too late??

As a one time member "Dad's Army" ( Queensland volunteer coastguard ) I was amazed at the absolute stupidity of some of the people we rescued.. sigh

Posted by David on December 2, 2009 19:35


Just returned last week to BKK from a great 10 days on Phuket, mate and i doing a bit of body surfing at Nai Harn, like being 18 again, found myself in the rip and started back stroking across the current, no big drama, i felt a tap on my shoulder only to find a fit healthy smiling thai bloke with a zippy board, "you in the rip", "yes mate but i'm ok", "ok", he said "may as well hang on and we'll get in", how good is that ? next i'll be getting a seat on the BTS, bloody fantastic.

Editor: Good to hear . . . the guys at Nai Harn are what every beach needs.

Posted by Anonymous on December 14, 2009 15:55

Saturday August 8, 2020
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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