Warrnambool lifeguards say they're on high alert but may struggle to fulfill an extended patrol season following a record-breaking year of drownings across Victoria.
Latest figures from the Life Saving Victoria Drowning Report show the state recorded its highest deadly drowning toll in more than 20 years, with 61 people losing their life in the past year.
While Warrnambool Surf Life Saving Club media and communications officer James Kol said water skills had prevented the same figures being recorded in the south-west region, the recent drowning of a woman in her 40 or 50s at the city's breakwater was a fresh reminder.
It comes as emergency services were also called to Childers Cove on Monday night to rescue a 37-year-old diver stranded on a rock ledge.
The club has also taken an extraordinary precaution entering the summer period.
"We're expecting an increase in visitation with people coming down to the coast from Melbourne and Geelong over the summer period, so we have extended our volunteer lifesaving season a bit longer than in the past to try and keep the community safe and have a patrol on the beaches for as long as we can," he said.
"However, that puts quite a lot of strain on our volunteers. We have been in talks with Warrnambool City Council to see if maybe we are able to bolster the paid lifeguards a little longer to take the burden off our volunteers but at this point we haven't really made a decision on that with council.
"We are ready for the increased visitation but we just ask people to swim between the flags and know their limits."
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He said the report highlighted the importance of programs such as nippers.
"A lot of the incidents that are documented were probably along the surf coast - when things did open up it was quite easy for people to make a day trip up from Melbourne after being locked up for so long and a lot of people hadn't been swimming for a while or weren't used to ocean conditions," he said.
"Locally down here we have a lot of programs in place with swim schools and our nipper program which keeps people well-educated around the ocean.
"Our concern is that people don't have the same access to programs like we do down here when they live in Melbourne and it's that increased visitation over the summer from the city that we see incidents occur, especially on big weekends like over the Christmas and New Year period, particularly when events happen.
"We might get a hot day and you'll see people from the sprint cars going for a swim and finding themselves in trouble. It's generally people that don't have access to the ocean that we find get themselves into trouble so we just urge people to take caution around the water, know their limits and their abilities and swim between the flags."
Nippers director Clint Joseph encouraged children aged seven to 13 to join the nippers program.
"Nippers provides education around surf safety and development of water skills," he said.
"We also provide the opportunity for senior age groups to compete at surf carnivals and a pathway to complete a Surf Rescue Certificate and begin patrolling the beach as a cadet.
"Our Nippers committee and club recognise the vital importance surf safety programs have for youth and have worked very hard to ensure the delivery of our program this summer."
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