Be river safe this summer

Published on 02 December 2022

People swimming in the river and sunbathing at Ahimate Beach.

We’re encouraging everyone to be safe around our awa (river) this summer.

Four people tragically died last summer swimming in the Manawatū River, near Ahimate Reserve, and Council has taken several steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Chief Customer Officer Chris Dyhrberg says Council’s elected members this year put forward a $25,000 programme for staff to establish an advisory group to investigate what could be done to reduce the chance of any further water related tragedies. This group has met twice and has representatives from Council, Rangitāne, Horizons Regional Council, Surf Life Saving and Water Safety New Zealand.

Alongside our partners at Horizons and Rangitāne, we have installed new water safety signs along the Palmerston North and Ashhurst sections of the river. These were translated into four languages and distributed to community groups throughout the city - as well as uploaded to our website.

Water safety messaging has been included in our ‘welcoming packs’ for new people to town and shared with our refugee communities, community partners and is available at our libraries and other civic buildings. We have also hosted a swimming event at Council-owned public pools targeting new refugees to the city.

“Our next step this summer is to carry out an assessment of the river within our city boundary to have a better look at the river environment and what more could be done. This includes determining whether floating or rescue devices could be made available at the river edge to assist in any rescue, patrols or any other measures that could be looked at. This hasn’t been able to occur before now due to the high river levels over winter and spring,” Mr Dyhrberg says. 

Tips to keep safe in the water this summer

Water Safety NZ kaihautu (leader) Rob Hewitt is working closely with Council to identify what we can do to keep recreational users safe around our awa.

He says anyone near the river should follow these handy tips to keep them and their whanāu safe this summer:

Wait 72 hours after rainfall before entering the river

Rivers are changeable and unpredictable – particularly after heavy rainfall. Riverbanks can also become unstable during and after heavy rain.

Check weather forecasts including rainfall in the hills above that could fill the streams and rivers where you are.

Look before you leap – check for hazards

Upstream, downstream and where you’re swimming. Rivers contain hidden dangers and swimming holes can change depths from summer to summer.

Always enter feet first and establish an exit point before you enter.

Keep looking

  •  Can you see the bottom?
  • Is it deep enough for jumping or diving?
  • Does the riverbed drop away close to the edge?
  • Could you handle the current if you got swept away?

A safe rescue is a land-based rescue

Dial 111 immediately if you see anyone in danger, so emergency services can get there as soon as possible.

If someone is being swept downstream, the only safe rescue is a land-based rescue. Do not enter the river after them. It is unlikely you will be able to reach them to help them and you may need to be rescued yourself.

  • Follow the person in trouble down the riverbank.
  • Find a safe place where the person may be able to swim towards the bank.
  • Use an object like a tree branch to reach out over the river.
  • Encourage the person in trouble to grab the branch or paddle and hang on.
  • Pull them to the riverbank and help them out.

If you cannot rescue the person safely from the bank:

  • Encourage the person to turn on their back and float feet first down the river
  • If practical, throw the person a buoyant object like a bucket, chilly bin or ball that they can hang onto and use to keep themselves afloat. 


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