Surf Life Saving NSW releases new report offering beach safety warning ahead of COVID restrictions easing
With an anticipated relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions for NSW over the coming months, Surf Life Saving NSW has today released their 2021 NSW Coastal Safety Report to highlight the need for hyper-vigilance on the State's beaches, with a spike in coastal visitation expected following large-scale lockdowns.
Surf Life Saving NSW (SLSNSW) advise that these concerns come off the back of a sharp rise in coastal drowning figures nationally – up by 20% overall in 2020-21.
Further analysis is required in NSW to establish any firm trends regarding lockdowns and the link to an increased risk of drowning deaths. However, the preliminary findings are concerning ahead of summer where, if state borders remain closed and international travel restrictions in place, high numbers of people are expected to visit the coastline.
SLSNSW Director of Lifesaving, Joel Wiseman notes “once NSW reaches its vaccination targets and restrictions ease, many people are going to flock to our beaches after being stuck at home for so long.
“What’s troubling is that the statistics show that following periods of lockdown, we experience a higher number of drowning deaths. Most of these are at unpatrolled locations.
“This comes down to a number of factors, from families seeking more remote and less crowded locations to swim, to the reduced access to swimming lessons and water safety education that comes with being locked down.
“Even the exhaustion of working from home, home-schooling and increased time in confined spaces can lead to complacency when supervising children around water.”
The annual NSW Coastal Safety Report provides a comprehensive summary and analysis of community perceptions, activities on the coast, coastal and ocean drowning deaths and related fatalities.
In the 12 months from 1st July 2020 to 30th June 2021, a total of 88 lives were lost on the NSW coastline with 45 of those classified as coastal drownings. This is above the average of 42 drowning deaths annually.
Males are alarmingly overrepresented, accounting for 93% of all coastal drowning deaths – and interestingly, men in their 60s represented the highest proportion of drownings (20% of the total). People who were swimming or wading accounted for 22% of drowning deaths in 2020/21, rock fishing accounted for one in every five deaths, while boating accidents (nearly a third of all drowning deaths in the previous year) represented 16% of all deaths.
Over the 2020/21 season, surf lifesavers and Australian Lifeguard Service lifeguards rescued 3,768 people in NSW and volunteers spent a total of 663,000 hours on patrol.
The report has also analysed data from key danger periods such as long weekends, where, when various factors coincide, the increased risk can be likened to a bushfire emergency.
For example, over the Australia Day long weekend in January, surf lifesavers and lifeguards rescued 815 people over a four-day period, which accounted for 22% of all rescues recorded in the entire year (3,768 rescues). Another 2,467 people were treated for injuries or medical complaints (21% of the 2020/21 season) and the Surf Emergency Response System was activated 26 times, resulting in seven lives saved.
The SLSNSW research team hopes that by being able to predict these high-risk periods in advance, surf life saving services and resources can be allocated to locations or at times they will be most effective.
Also leading out of lockdown and into summer, Surf Life Saving will be looking at water safety campaigns and measures to reinforce to people the need to swim at patrolled beaches and to brush up on swimming skills that may have lapsed during the long COVID-19 winter.
Wiseman adds “the statistics reinforce the need for us to push surf safety messages throughout our communities. While our volunteer lifesaving and paid lifeguard services continue to be the cornerstone of our service delivery across NSW, we must also invest in community education programs.
“I have to admit that we are very concerned about the increased risk of drowning incidents because people may lack the swimming skills or fitness necessary to enjoy the water safely, particularly children who may have missed out on vital swimming lessons.
“Programs like Nippers will be so important to help kids get their confidence back and develop skills in the surf, once we get out of lockdown.”
Click here to access SLSNSW 2021 NSW Coastal Safety Report.
Images: Cover of SLSNSW 2021 NSW Coastal Safety Report (top) and an offshore rescue (below, credit Surf Life Saving Australia)
8th September 2021 - Lockdowns contribute to rise in Australian drowning deaths during past year
29th March 2021 - Surf Life Saving NSW partners with Madimack to run CPR course
25th March 2021 - Surf Life Saving Queensland receive $36 million funding commitment
20th February 2021 - Prime Minister Morrison pledges extra funds for Surf Life Saving across Australia
25th January 2021 - Surf Life Saving Australia warns drowning deaths more likely on public holidays
5th September 2020 - Surf Life Saving WA prepares for busy beaches with return of helicopter services
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