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National Coastal Safety Report shows reduction in drowning deaths

National Coastal Safety Report shows reduction in drowning deaths
December 14, 2014

Surf Life Saving Australia’s focus on beach patrols, surveillance and emergency response measures combined to help reduce the number of coastal drowning deaths by almost a third in 2013/14.

The annual National Coastal Safety Report was launched at Queenscliff Surf Life Saving Club on Sydney’s northern beaches today (Sunday 14th December).

It shows there were 84 coastal drowning deaths in 2013/14, down 29% on the previous year. 19 of those fatalities were people who were swimming or wading. Notably, there were no drownings between the red and yellow flags on a beach patrolled by Surf Life Saving volunteers and lifeguards.

More than half of the drowning deaths in 2013/14 (43) occurred more than five kilometres from a lifesaving service. This represents a significant increase on the previous year and was the highest in the past 10 years.

Introducing the Report, Surf Life Saving Australia President Graham Ford stated "what that tells us is that the Surf Life Saving patrols are saving lives. The system works when people heed the warnings and swim between the red and yellow flags. We can’t save you if we can’t see you.

“However, the fact that we still had 19 people lose their life while swimming in areas outside of our patrolling zones is a national concern and I would urge people to please stay between the red and yellow flags this summer.”

In 2013-14, 38% of drowning deaths occurred at beaches. A third of all drowning deaths were offshore and a quarter of all fatalities were on rocky coastlines. This is consistent with concerning increases in the drowning deaths of rock fishermen and people using boating and watercraft.

Furthermore, 89% of all drowning deaths were male victims. The most common age demographic was the 60-64 age group, of which 91% lost their life during boating activity, using watercraft, rock fishing or diving.

Ford added "this is a particularly concerning statistic for Surf Life Saving Australia. Our safety message has long revolved around urging people to swim between the flags and that remains. But the heavy contribution to our drowning deaths among boating, watercraft and rock fishing enthusiasts shows that we need to pour more attention into combatting this by enhancing our emergency response system across the coastline.

“Clearly these activities are taking place in areas outside of Surf Life Saving patrol zones so people need to take personal responsibility on the water and ensure that they’re always wearing a life jacket. They provide crucial minutes for Surf Life Savers and Emergency Services to reach and rescue you in remote areas. Sadly this has not been the case among drowning victims documented in the National Coastal Safety Report.”

The majority of drowning deaths are Australians (70), even though the number of tourist fatalities doubled in 2013/14 (14). Rip currents (15%), medical condition or injury (24%) and alcohol or drugs (14%) were the most common contributory factors.

More than 47,000 patrolling members at 311 Surf Life Saving clubs performed 1.2 million volunteer patrol hours nationally in 2013/14. There were:

• 11,711 rescues – that’s 32 rescues a day

• 31,893 first aid treatments – that’s 87 a day

• 1,016,037 preventative actions – that’s 2,784 a day

Ford concluded "there are a lot of people living their lives today because of the great work, smart thinking and swift actions of our patrolling lifesavers.

“Our aim is to reduce drowning by 50% by 2020. Our commitment is to save lives, create great Australians and build better communities. While drowning deaths occur we will never be satisfied, but any reduction in that rate is positive.”

Click here to view the full report.

Images courtesy of Surf Life Saving Australia.




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