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Lifeguard flags at Phuket's Nai Harn beach will have gone by now

Killer Karon Claims Nine Lives: Lifeguards Quit Phuket Beaches

Monday, February 28, 2011
KARON is easily Phuket's most deadly beach, with nine deaths reported there since April compared to a total of four deaths reported at other Phuket beaches.

The figure of 13 drownings in the past 10 months was revealed as Phuket Lifeguard Club concluded its contract on Saturday, leaving all of Phuket's west coast beaches without lifeguards, or in some cases with temporary replacements.

Phuket Lifeguard Club kept statistics during their tenure on the beaches, providing for the first time details on all incidents in which lifeguards were involved.

The figures reveal there were 1064 rescues of expats and 286 rescues of Thais between April and February. Karon (352 expats, 38 Thais), Patong (422 expats, 143 Thais) Kata (158 expats, 43 Thais) and Nai Harn (32 expats, 48 Thais) dominated the statistics.

Rescue figures for other protected beaches were Kata Noi (2 Thais) Ya Nui (nil) Laem Sing (1 expat) Kamala (3 expats) Surin (32 expats 8, Thais) Bang Tao (9 expats 1 Thai) Nai Thon (53 expats, 2 Thais) Nai Yang (1 Thai) Mai Khao (2 expats.)

The lifeguard tendering system for the Phuket Provincial Administrative Organisation requires a renewed application each year. Phuket Lifeguard Club officials are reluctant to tender again because of the short-term nature of the contract.

Water safety experts have pointed out that unless the contract is extended for renewal every two or three years instead of annually, the skills gained by the Lifeguard Club in training its lifeguards will quickly be lost because they will be forced to find other work.

Phuket aims to eventually develop a system to produce volunteer lifeguards of the kind who partol beaches in Australia and California, but a ''beach culture'' has to evolve first and that could take a generation.

Meanwhile, the international holiday island's beaches are unguarded.

Drownings can occur at any time but most drownings occur during the Phuket low season, when the monsoons trigger unseen rip currents that can quickly carry even quite strong swimmers out to sea.

This is particularly evident at Karon, where the four-kilometre stretch of sand makes protecting the entire beach impossible, and where tourists who have paid for beach holidays tend to ignore red flags and other warnings to swim.

Many visitors to Phuket are from countries without surf beaches, so there's a lack of knowledge about the dangers.

Lack of lifeguards will probably mean that the number of rescues decrease and the number of drownings increase.

People caught in a rip tend to panic, tire from struggling to swim against the pull of the water, and drown. The expert advice is to float with the current out to sea, wait until the current ceases to pull, then swim parralel to the beach before trying another route back to land.

Lack of lifeguards on Phuket for an indeterminate period was likely to be a point of discussion when new British Ambassador Asif Ahmad and Consul Michael Hancock meet first with PPAO chcief executive Paiboon Upatising and then Governor Tri Augkaradacha today.
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Comments have been disabled for this article.


Phuket needs lifeguards and proper rescue equipment on the beaches all year round. Hopefully the Phuket Provincial Administration (PPAO) will get their act together and make this a reality before any more lives are lost.

Posted by safety first on February 28, 2011 12:18


I think life guards are only needed when the wind is from the west, making for rough surf and rip tides. Usually during the high season, with winds from the east, it is as calm as a lake, and with so many other swimmers around, it is little risk. I'd rather see the extensive monies spent on warning summer visitors as to the very real dangers of the monsoon season.

Posted by Cap't. Kirk on February 28, 2011 17:47

Editor Comment:

You would get an argument from the parents of kids who drown all year long.


"I think life guards are only needed when the wind is from the west". I think Cap't. Kirk has been beamed to another planet. He does not seem to be abreast of the situation on Phuket, planet Earth!

Posted by Phuket Kop on February 28, 2011 22:33


Isn't it ironic that the tendering system is intended to stop corruption. The amount of graft than could be gained from this must be miniscule compared to the big picture. I guess lives are less important than tuk tuks!! Welll done to the guards for the lives they saved and shame on those who don't listen to them and go in the water putting others at risk.

Posted by Mister Ree on February 28, 2011 23:38


Phuket Kop,
I've been living next door to a Phuket beach for six years and I've observed it season in and season out. Wind from the west ( in the summer monsoon) pushes the water into the beach, making for dangerous surf and those deadly rivers of currents that drag swimmers out. In the high season, (winter) with wind from the east, there are no rip currents, indeed there are hardly any waves at all.

While I'm sure people do drown on Phuket all year long, I think more lives would be saved with an effective and comprehensive campaign to warn tourists in the summer as to risks of the rip tides.

Posted by Cap't. Kirk on March 1, 2011 08:44

Editor Comment:

Phuket needs lifeguards on the beaches all year long, not just to protect lives but also to preserve lifesaving skills. The old part-time system failed Phuket because the precious lifesaving skills were lost every year. As we've said repeatedly, warnings need to come in three stages: on videos in flights as visitors descend to Phuket, in person at reception when guests check in, and at the beaches with signs and lifeguard warnings. Part-time systems fall apart.


Editor, I disagree. Lifeguards are simply not needed when the sea is as calm and flat as a pond. If trained lifeguards can't remember their skills from one year to the next, I would surmise the training is lacking, or the staff.
Many holiday destinations only employ half the year when either tourists re visiting, or ocean conditions warrant. Money is better spent educating.

Posted by Cap't. Kirk on March 1, 2011 09:55

Editor Comment:

Captain Kirk, are you offering employment to the lifeguards during the high season? Or are you simply ignoring the practical problems of maintaining skills and ensuring all people are protected on all beaches at all times of the year?

Phuket is a year-round swimming destination. Perhaps you could explain your theory to the parents of 10-year-old Max, who was brought in on a slab at a Phuket hospital on a high season day last year? Or the relatives of other victims of needless drownings? Whenever people swim on Phuket, lifesavers need to be there. That's the rule in the places where lifesaving skills are well-maintained.

Saturday February 24, 2024
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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