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Surf Life Saving Australia reveals 116 coastal drowning deaths in 2016/17

Surf Life Saving Australia reveals 116 coastal drowning deaths in 2016/17
December 14, 2017

Surf Life Saving Australia’s National Coastal Safety Report 2017 has revealed 116 coastal drowning deaths occurred in the past year.

Launched today at the Seaford Life Saving Club by Federal Minister for Health and Sport Greg Hunt, the Report highlights many significant factors around coastal drowning deaths.

With recent tragic events involving children and teenagers in NSW (missing 11 year old, Lighthouse Beach) and South Australia (drowning death of a 15 year old girl from India at Glenelg Beach), Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) wants all to be water safety conscious as we lead into the Christmas holiday period.

While the 116 coastal drowning deaths is a 9% reduction on the previous year, it is the third highest number of fatalities recorded in the past 13 years.

Of these coastal drowning deaths, men are overrepresented at 83% of the recorded fatalities.

Swimming/wading is the most common activity preceding a drowning death (28%, n=32), and with a corresponding increase in swimming/wading participation at coastal locations by (4% to 10.1 million in 2017).

Introducing the Report, Surf Life Saving Australia President Graham Ford stated “today we heard about 116 coastal drowning deaths due to the unpredictability of our oceans.

“These aren’t just numbers, its 116 lives, it’s someone’s mother, father, brother, sister, child or friend who didn’t return home from the beach.”

“These findings show that there is still work to be done in driving a national agenda on water safety education, and in promoting safe practises such as swimming between the red and yellow flags and wearing a life jacket. With government, community, business and water safety agencies working together, we can make a difference.

“We are imploring all Australians to take extra care when undertaking water related activities on our coastlines.”

This last year four states - West Australia (26), South Australia (10), Queensland (22) and Tasmania (eight) - experienced an increase in total recorded drowning deaths on the previous year. Reductions occurred in both Victoria (15) and New South Wales (32) while the Northern Territory (three) reported parity on the previous year’s data.

Minister Hunt advised “the need for increased education and behavioural programs for all beachgoers remains of critical importance in light of the Report’s findings.

“We are fully committed to working with Surf Life Saving Australia to achieve their vision of zero preventable deaths in Australian waters. A day at the beach or on the water should be a happy memory and not one of tragedy so it is vital to heed the advice and warnings issued by Surf Life Saving.” 

The National Coastal Safety Report 2017 highlights additional key findings including:

• Although 43% of coastal drowning deaths occured at beaches, 26% occured offshore.
• 40% of coastal drowning deaths occured at least 5km from a Surf Life Saving Club (SLSC). 
• 59% of coastal drowning deaths occured during other activities including boating and PWC (personal water craft - jetskis); snorkelling; rock fishing; scuba diving; and watercraft. 
• Only 39% of people report they usually swim at patrolled beaches during patrol hours.
• Six in 10 people who say they can identify a rip current correctly get it wrong.
• One in five Australians say they have a lifejacket at home, however only 42% of boaters and 13% of rock fishers say they always wear a lifejacket when participating in those activities.

Surf Life Saving Australia is asking 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 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 and ability before entering the water
• Supervise children at all times in and around water.

Last year Surf Life Saving services were involved in more than 10,000 rescues and nearly 4 million preventative actions. That equates to 30 rescues a day and 900 preventative actions each hour.

Surf Life Saving Australia remains committed to its vision of zero preventable deaths. Awareness campaigns, education programs, joint Federal Government initiatives and community-driven activities are crucial Surf Life Saving initiatives for the reduction of coastal drowning deaths.

The National Coastal Safety Report 2017 can be viewed at sls.com.au/publications/

Images: Federal Minister for Sport Greg Hunt (top) and Surf Life Saving Australia President Graham Ford (middle) introduce the National Coastal Safety Report 2017 with members of the Seaford Surf Lifesaving Club. Ford and Minister Hunt disuss the report with Club members (below). 

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