There has been a lot of news recently in the newspapers about the dangers of swimming on Phuket’s west coast. From mid-May to mid-July it is the height of monsoon season and the surf on some beaches in Phuket can be dangerous. During this period last year, eight tourists drowned. Although there were four drownings last week alone, the Thai authorities are making a better effort to make the beaches safer with a flag system and lifeguards.
Some of the recent deaths and dramatic rescues from the surf were blamed on tourists themselves for ignoring the red flags. During the “Super Moon” period last week when the surf was at its most dangerous, lifeguards even roped off some beaches to try and stop tourists swimming. But, is it really fair to blame the tourists? There is certainly a lot of confusion about which beaches are safe, and indeed, which parts of the beach is safe. The situation can also change from day to day.
If you see a red/yellow flag on the beach, top picture, this means that there are lifeguards on duty. At this one life guard tower I could see three lifeguards. But, what was confusing for me was that there were red flags at the top of the beach. I asked the lifeguards if it was safe for swimming and they said yes but be careful. According to local vendors, the red flags at the top of the beach are there all the time. Isn’t that a bit like have a “beware of wet paint” sign on a park bench all year round? After a while no-one takes any notice of it.
If you are heading to Phuket this month you should be aware of potential dangers in swimming. Look out for the red/yellow flag and the lifeguards. They do speak English and so check with them if it is safe to swim in the sea on that day. Just because you see other people swimming in the sea it doesn’t mean it is safe to swim. Also, just because it may be a hot and sunny day, it doesn’t mean that it is safe. The surf has hidden dangers that can drag even experienced swimmers out to sea. If in doubt, use your hotel’s swimming pool.