Report shows sharp rise in drowning deaths; lifesavers fear beachgoers 'lack skills or fitness'

An increase in drowning deaths over the past year has lifesavers concerned as they expect people to flock to the beach when restrictions ease.

As the state prepares for lockdowns to be lifted and more relaxed restrictions over the coming months, a Surf Life Saving NSW report released today (Wednesday, September 8) has highlighted the need for hyper-vigilance on our beaches.

These concerns come off the back of a sharp rise in coastal drowning figures nationally - up by 20 percent overall in 2020-21.

Far South Coast lifesavers training at Tathra in 2020. Picture: Claudia Ferguson.

Far South Coast lifesavers training at Tathra in 2020. Picture: Claudia Ferguson.

Surf Life Saving NSW director of lifesaving, Joel Wiseman, worried over people who have not brushed up on swimming skills or fitness before hitting the beach.

"Once NSW reaches its vaccination targets and restrictions ease, many people are going to flock to our beaches after being stuck at home for so long," he said.

"What's troubling is that the statistics show that following periods of lockdown, we experience a higher number of drowning deaths. Most of these are at unpatrolled locations.

"This comes down to a number of factors, from families seeking more remote and less crowded locations to swim, to the reduced access to swimming lessons and water safety education that comes with being locked down.

"Even the exhaustion of working from home, home-schooling and increased time in confined spaces can lead to complacency when supervising children around water."

"I have to admit that we are very concerned about the increased risk of drowning incidents because people may lack the swimming skills or fitness necessary to enjoy the water safely, particularly children who may have missed out on vital swimming lessons.

We are very concerned about the increased risk of drowning incidents because people may lack the swimming skills or fitness necessary to enjoy the water safely ...

Joel Wiseman - SLSNSW director of lifesaving

"Programs like Nippers will be so important to help kids get their confidence back and develop skills in the surf, once we get out of lockdown."

Further analysis is required in NSW to establish any firm trends regarding lockdowns and the link to an increased risk of drowning deaths.

The annual NSW Coastal Safety Report provided a summary and analysis of community perceptions, activities on the coast, coastal and ocean drowning deaths and related fatalities.

Alarming statistics

  • In the 12 months from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, a total of 88 lives were lost on the NSW coastline with 45 of those classified as coastal drownings. This is above the average of 42 drowning deaths annually.
  • Males are alarmingly overrepresented, accounting for 93% of all coastal drowning deaths - and interestingly, men in their 60s represented the highest proportion of drownings (20% of the total).
  • People who were swimming or wading accounted for 22% of drowning deaths in 2020/21, rock fishing accounted for one in every five deaths, while boating accidents (nearly a third of all drowning deaths in the previous year) represented 16% of all deaths.
  • Over the 2020/21 season, surf lifesavers and Australian Lifeguard Service lifeguards rescued 3,768 people in NSW and volunteers spent a total of 663,000 hours on patrol.

The report also analysed data from key danger periods such as long weekends.

  • Over the Australia Day long weekend in January, surf lifesavers and lifeguards rescued 815 people over a four-day period, which accounted for 22% of all rescues recorded in the entire year (3,768 rescues).
  • Another 2,467 people were treated for injuries or medical complaints (21% of the 2020/21 season) and the Surf Emergency Response System was activated 26 times, resulting in seven lives saved.
A calm day at Bermagui in 2020. Image: Bermagui Surf Life Saving Club.

A calm day at Bermagui in 2020. Image: Bermagui Surf Life Saving Club.

The ability to predict high-risk periods in advance, potentially allows surf lifesaving services and resources to be allocated to locations or at times they will be most effective.

Leading out of lockdown and into summer, Surf Life Saving will be looking at water safety campaigns and measures to reinforce the need to swim at patrolled beaches and for people to brush up on swimming skills that may have lapsed during the long COVID-19 winter.

"The statistics reinforce the need for us to push surf safety messages throughout our communities," Mr Wiseman said.

"While our volunteer lifesaving and paid lifeguard services continue to be the cornerstone of our service delivery across NSW, we must also invest in community education programs."

Key Findings in 2020-21

  • Swimming fatalities comprised 22% of all coastal and ocean drownings
  • Rock fishing fatalities comprised 20% of coastal drownings
  • Total coastal deaths were 88, including 45 coastal drownings
  • Boating fatalities comprised 16% of all coastal drownings
  • Men made up 93% of all coastal drownings.

Drownings by Surf Life Saving Branch

  • Far North Coast - 3
  • North Coast - 8
  • Mid North Coast - 2
  • Lower North Coast - 2
  • Hunter - 3
  • Central Coast - 2
  • Sydney Northern Beaches - 3
  • Sydney - 10
  • Illawarra - 6
  • South Coast - 1
  • Far South Coast - 5

To read the full report, CLICK HERE.

Beach safety tips

  • Always swim between the red and yellow patrol flags, for your nearest patrolled beach check the BeachSafe app or website
  • Read the safety signs for information about the beach and ask a lifesaver or lifeguard for safety information
  • Always swim with someone else so you can look out for each other, and always supervise children around the water
  • Never swim under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • If you need help in the water, stay calm and attract attention by raising one arm
  • In an emergency, dial Triple-Zero (000)
  • For information about patrol times, weather, and beach locations visit the Beachsafe Website or Download the App.
This story Report shows sharp rise in drowning deaths; lifesavers fear beachgoers 'lack skills or fitness' first appeared on Bay Post-Moruya Examiner.

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