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Byron Shire
October 5, 2022

Deadliest year for coastal drownings in NSW

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NSW SLSC Surf Rescue have been kept busy in the 2021/2022 season. Photo supplied.

In their latest safety report, Surf Life Saving NSW says that the 2021/2022 season had the highest number of coastal drownings on record.

The 2022 NSW Coastal Safety Report released on Friday, says the number is up almost 30 per cent on the 10-year average.

Last year’s drowning toll equalled the previous highest recorded figure in 2015/16 where 55 people in NSW lost their lives on our beaches, in the ocean, coastal waterways and rock platforms.

December to February also claimed the record for the most coastal and ocean drowning deaths over summer, with 25 fatalities recorded, despite the higher than usual rainfall from La Niña and reduced beach attendances.

In particular, rock fishing deaths increased significantly to 11, up from 8 the year prior. Rock fishing continues a year-on-year trend as the second highest cause of coastal drowning (behind swimming/wading).

Tackling the spike in rock fishing deaths

Surf Life Saving NSW is partnering with the NSW Government to tackle the spike in rock fishing deaths by delivering their largest ever rock fishing safety initiative.

Surf Life Saving NSW Director of Lifesaving Joel Wiseman said the first rock fishing skills session was held at the notorious rock fishing blackspot, Hill 60 in Port Kembla, last weekend, with more than 100 rock fishers taking part.

‘This summer we’ll see more of these skills sessions held up and down the New South Wales coast, providing participants with life-saving information and a free life jacket.

‘It was also pleasing to see that Wollongong City Council has voted to introduce mandatory lifejacket legislation for rock fishers, becoming the ninth LGA to do so,’ said Mr Wiseman.

Over-representation of males

Other trends highlighted by the NSW Coastal Safety Report include an over-representation of males in coastal drowning incidents – 87 per cent compared with just 13 per cent females. Over 60 per cent of those who drowned were aged 40+ years.

Boating was also a big cause of drowning with eight people boating or using personal watercraft when they drowned.

Check the conditions before heading out

Mr Wiseman said that regardless of what you’re doing on the water, it’s absolutely vital that you check the conditions prior to heading out. ‘You need to understand the environment you are entering, understand your own limitations and abilities, and ensure you are well-equipped should things go wrong.’

Over the 2021/22 season, surf lifesavers, Australian Lifeguard Service lifeguards and support operations rescued more than 4000 people in NSW, and volunteers spent over 621,000 hours on patrol. The number of emergency callouts responded to by Surf Life Saving increased to 791 for the year.

Key Findings in 2021-22 

  • Highest number of coastal drownings on record – 55
  • Swimming fatalities comprised 29 per cent of all coastal and ocean drownings
  • Rock fishing fatalities climbed to 11 a 37 per cent increase
  • Boating fatalities comprised 15 per cent of all coastal drownings
  • Men made up 87 per cent of all coastal drownings
  • 62 per cent of people drowned were aged 40+

Drownings by Surf Life Saving Branch

Far North Coast – 2
North Coast – 3
Mid North Coast – 0
Lower North Coast – 4
Hunter – 3
Central Coast – 4
Sydney Northern Beaches – 6
Sydney – 12
Illawarra – 6
South Coast – 7
Far South Coast – 5
Other – 3

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
  • For information about patrol times, weather, and beach locations visit the Beachsafe Website or Download the App.

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