Surf Life Saving Australia has called for the public to always be vigilant as the movement today released its National Coastal Safety Report 2016. It revealed a concerning increase in the number of people drowning on the Australian coastline.
The Report, launched by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in North Bondi, indicates 130 people lost their lives between July 2015 and June 2016 – marking a 24 per cent increase from 105 drowning deaths the previous year.
Of these drowning deaths, males account for the majority of deaths (89 per cent), and a three per cent increase from 2015.
New South Wales recorded the highest number of coastal drowning deaths (53) with the majority (30 percent) of these occurring while swimming or wading. Victoria accounted for the second highest number of coastal deaths (22), the majority was due to boating (36 per cent). Queensland and Western Australia both recorded 20 fatalities with 35 per cent attributed to swimming or wading and 40 per cent due to boating respectively, while South Australia lost eight lives, half of which were due to swimming or wading. Tasmania recorded four drowning deaths, 50 per cent due to boating, and the Northern Territory lost three lives.
Surf Life Saving Australia President, Graham Ford AM stated, “one death is one too many, and to have 130 coastal drowning deaths across the country is truly saddening. The need for increased education and awareness programs around coastal safety is of critical importance.”
These figures send a timely reminder to everyone, particularly men, to take extra care when undertaking any water-related activities on our coastline, the ocean is unpredictable and I urge people to exercise caution and vigilance in order to enjoy a safe day in or on the ocean and remember to always swim between the red and yellow flags,” said Mr Ford.
The National Coastal Safety Report 2016 highlights a number of additional key findings:
- Ten per cent of coastal drowning deaths were international tourists, down from 14 per cent last year.
- The highest drowning risk demographic is males aged 25-29 years of age who swim, boat and snorkel.
Contributing factors included rip currents (14 per cent), medical conditions or injury (29 per cent), and alcohol/drugs (17 per cent).
- Although 48 per cent of coastal drowning deaths occurred at beaches, 26 per cent occurred offshore and 19 per cent were on rocky coastlines.
- 37 per cent of coastal drowning deaths occurred at least 5km from a Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC).
- While 30 per cent of drowning deaths were during swimming/wading activities, 40 per cent of coastal drowning deaths were during boating, rock fishing and watercraft activities that generally occur outside of the traditional patrol setting.
- Less than of half of the population, 44 per cent of people, report they usually swim at patrolled beaches during patrol hours.
- While people perceive rip currents as hazardous (average of 72 per cent), they don’t have the skills to identify them (31 per cent accurately identified a rip current when tested).
- Only 13 per cent of fishers and 51 per cent of boaters reported always wearing a lifejacket.
- The most likely activity when drowning in Australia is swimming or wading, accounting for 30 per cent of coastal drowning deaths. According to the SLSA National Coastal Safety Survey, the number of people participating in swimming and wading at the coast has increased by 20 per cent (8.1 million in 2015 to 9.7 million in 2016).
This year has also seen a 58 per cent increase in boating-related fatalities. The beach continues to be the leading location (48 per cent) for coastal drowning deaths, while offshore fatalities have risen by 113 per cent to represent 26 per cent of locations.
With Surf Life Saving volunteers performing over 13,034 rescues last year, the movement has some key recommendations for the general public to reduce risks when visiting the coast:
- 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 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
Statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO), reveal drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury and death worldwide, accounting for 7% of all injury-related deaths.
The National Coastal Safety Report 2016 not only recognises drowning statistics but also includes research into first aid treatments and preventative actions by SLS members and provides information about the Australian community’s coastal visitation trends as well as their perceptions of coastal hazards.
Surf Life Saving Australia remains committed to its vision of zero preventable deaths and will continue to strive to reduce coastal drowning deaths via awareness campaigns, education programs, joint Federal Government initiatives and community-driven activities.