Swimming between the red and yellow flags has been Surf Life Saving Australia’s (SLSA) mantra for many years and the organisation is not wavering from this stance.
Figures from SLSA show that 1,281 coastal drowning deaths have been recorded during the past 13 years, from 2004 – 2017.
Research from the National Coastal Safety Report 2017, show that 40 per cent of coastal drowning deaths for 2016 – 2017 happened at least 5km from a lifesaving service, with 26 per cent of coastal drowning deaths being within 1km of a lifesaving service.
More than 10,879 people were rescued by surf lifesavers or lifeguards (SLSA Lifeguards) during 2016 – 2017 with more than 108,044 people being provided first aid treatment.
“The startling fact is that potentially 1,281 lives may not have been lost as a result of a coastal drowning if these people had been swimming at a patrolled beach, between the red and yellow flags.” Shane Daw, National Coastal Risk and Safety Manager stated.
The latest death of a boater at Cape Solander (NSW) earlier today and a snorkeller in South Australia yesterday has SLSA recording at least 17 coastal drowning deaths for the month of December (up to 28 December), with five of these being children aged 11 – 15.
“We encourage all beachgoers to head to a patrolled beach and swim between the red and yellow flags.” Shane Daw, National Coastal Risk and Safety Manager said. “However, we know for some this may not be possible, in these cases we ask everyone to consider their own safety by knowing their limitations and those they are with, learning how to identify a rip current and other hazards and wearing a lifejacket when boating, fishing or in watercraft. Your safety begins with you.”
Rip currents are known to be a contributing factor to a number of the coastal drowning deaths this year and for many years. Research undertaken by SLSA shows that more than 4.2 million people have at some time been caught in a rip current. Research in partnership with the University of New South Wales showed rip currents kill more people on average than bushfires, cyclones, floods, and shark attacks. SLSA research also identified that two out of three people who said they could identify a rip current, could not do so correctly.
“Many people are not able to identify a rip current, therefore the message of swimming at a patrolled beach between the red and yellow flags is vitally important one.” Associate Professor Rob Brander, University of New South Wales said. “Getting the public to understand the risks of swimming at locations not patrolled is difficult, and too often lives are lost as a result of this lack of awareness, knowledge and skill.”
With New Years Eve celebrations happening around the country SLSA does have concerns the drowning toll could increase. There are concerns with people drinking and participating in aquatic activities with approximately 19% of coastal drowning fatalities involving alcohol and/or drugs. “Drinking alcohol and swimming can result in serious injury and is known to increase the risk of drowning or injury.” said Daw. “Alcohol impairs your senses and is known lead to risk-taking behaviour.”
The SLSA National Coastal Safety Report 2017 released in December showed 116 coastal drowning deaths were recorded for 2016-17, which is the third highest number of fatalities recorded in the past 13 years.
Surf Life Saving Australia is urging the public to take precautions when recreating in coastal areas this summer:
- Where possible, swim at a patrolled beach, between the red and yellow flags
- Obey the safety signs at the beach
- Learn how to identify a rip current and look for rip currents before deciding where to swim
- If you’re not sure, ask a lifesaver or lifeguard about the beach conditions
- Wear a lifejacket while boating, rock fishing or paddling
- Don’t go into or on the ocean during severe weather warnings
- Take personal responsibility, think twice and assess your safety before entering the water
- Supervise children at all times in and around water.
For the latest safety information – including patrolled beach locations – visit beachsafe.org.au