Many locals and visitors have enjoyed exploring Penguin Island, which sits in the middle of the Rubicon Estuary between Shearwater and Narawntapu National Park, but such visits are not without risk, as a several groups find out each year.
Several times a year, volunteer lifesavers from Port Sorell Surf Lifesaving Club launch one of the club’s inflatable rescue boats and to return the grateful groups safely to shore after they become trapped by the incoming tide.
Port Sorell SLSC President, and Emergency Response Team member, Haydon Coates, says that “Port Sorell SLSC is pleased that we are able to be rescue people from the island quickly and safely, but repeated incidents highlights the need for careful planning of any trips out to the estuary’s islands”.
Mr Coates offered the following advice for anybody planning to explore Penguin Island;
1. Plan your visit around low tide.
Penguin Island is only accessible by foot when the tide is out, so plan your visit around low tide. We would suggest walking out to the islands as the tide falls and returning well before the tide comes back in.
Swimming out to the islands is not for the inexperienced. The islands are almost 1km from Freers Beach. Unless you are an experienced open water swimmer, you should not attempt to swim to Penguin Island.
Tidal information is available from the Surf Life Saving Australia Beachsafe website and app.
2. Plan your return trip around the speed of your slowest walker.
Distances can be deceptive. The walk back from the island is approximately one kilometre. Ensure that you allow for your slowest group member to return in plenty of time.
3. Tell somebody where you are going and when you will return.
Tell a responsible person where you are going and when you will be back, so they can raise the alarm if you don’t return on time. Remember to tell them when you return safely.
4. Take a fully-charged mobile phone with you.
There is mobile phone coverage on the islands. If the worst happens and you do get into difficulties on the island do not hesitate to call Triple Zero and ask for Police. Tasmania Police will coordinate any resources needed to rescue you from the island, including requesting assistance from our surf club volunteers if necessary.
5. Prepare for the elements.
Penguin Island is very exposed and, like the rest of Tasmania, the weather can change dramatically in a short time.
Check the forecast before you leave, and take a drink, a snack and some rain-proof jackets in case the weather turns nasty.
Mr Coates said, “Whilst Freers Beach is rated as a low-hazard beach on the SLSA Beachsafe app, people visiting the area should be aware of rapidly changing tides in the estuary and the dangers associated with a predominantly off-shore wind.
Our volunteer surf patrols, which operate on weekends and public holidays throughout the summer, regularly monitor the number of people visiting the island.”