Lifeguards and volunteer surf lifesavers are gearing up for another busy Christmas New Year holiday period with a simple message: be vigilant.
With a 22 per cent spike in coastal drowning deaths in NSW over the 2018/19 season, 44 people have tragically drowned along the NSW Coast.
Four of those have been in the Mid-North Coast Branch.
They include backpackers Hugo Palmer and Erwan Ferrieux who went missing after going for a swim at Port Macquarie's Shelly Beach in February 2018.
Surf Life Saving NSW has documented this worrying increase in fatalities in the 2019 Surf Life Saving NSW Coastal Safety Report, which details coastal drowning figures and identifies trends and areas of concern for the coming summer.
Key findings of the report include:
- 86% of coastal drowning victims were male
- 59% of drownings occurred at a beach location
- 18% of coastal drownings were attributed to rock fishing
- 7% of those who drowned were attempting to rescue someone else
- There was an increase in drowning deaths involving scuba diving or snorkelling.
The figures are concerning for surf lifesavers and with summer about to hit, water safety volunteers and professionals are looking to re-double efforts to reduce the drowning toll this year.
Regional manager for Surf Life Saving NSW Tony O'Mara says lifeguard and lifesavers are on high alert as the beach season starts to crank up.
"We have to reiterate the message to visitors to the area that they should swim at a patrolled beach and swim between the flags," he said.
"Every swimmer needs to know their limitations too.
The statistics tell us that only one person in four can spot a rip.Tony O'Mara
"As we know, rips can happen at any time and people have to be ever-vigilant.
"Surf Life Saving has emphasised to patrolling members the need to remain vigilant and keep people safe in the water."
Mr O'Mara said the latest figures showed a evidence that males tend to think they are bullet-proof and high risk takers in certain circumstances.
He said alcohol can also play a part in fatalities, particular in freshwater drownings.
"The statistics tell us that only one person in four can spot a rip," he added.
Mr O'Mara said a huge holiday population was about to descend on coastal towns and cities from a wide variety of predominately inland areas.
Some of these visitors will not be used to beach conditions, he said.
"We know that the surf is constantly changing. The beach you go to one day can be completely different the next day.
"I would urge everyone going to a patrolled beach to talk with lifeguards and lifesavers and listen and heed that advice.
"Don't put yourself or others at risk.
"You must know your limitations," he said.
SLSNSW CEO Steven Pearce says the organisation is looking to new technology and new equipment to help save lives this summer.
"We have rolled out new rescue equipment as part of a major funding package from the NSW government, including additional jetskis and support operations vehicles," he said.
"Combined with drones which are our eyes in sky, these increased surveillance and response measures will give our volunteers a big boost to their capability.
"Surf Life Saving is increasingly in demand when emergencies happen on the coast and people's lives are at risk.
"Our volunteers now provide a major rescue capability way beyond the red and yellow flags."
Combined with drones which are our eyes in sky, these increased surveillance and response measures will give our volunteers a big boost to their capability.Steven Pearce
Additional technology measures looking to be trialled this summer to enhance public safety include Permanent Emergency Response Beacons at unpatrolled locations and a trial of Beach Wifi technology that will deliver safety information in a range of languages and real-time hazard warnings.
Since 1 July 2019, there have been 11 coastal drownings recorded in NSW waters.
Drownings by NSW branch: Far North Coast 5; North Coast 7; Mid North Coast 4; Lower North Coast 1; Hunter 3; Central Coast 0; Sydney Northern Beaches 2; Sydney 15; Illawarra 1; South Coast 5; Far South Coast 1.
The 2019 Surf Life Saving NSW Coastal Safety Report can be viewed here.
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