State News

Image: Lynne Mowbray.

New Report Shows Boating Deaths Highest on Record

Surf Life Saving NSW today launched its 2020 NSW Coastal Safety Report which highlights a concerning spike in boating-related coastal drownings on the NSW coastline. Last year, for the first time, boating incidents eclipsed swimming as the activity which led to the most fatalities​.

  • Boating fatalities comprised 31% of all coastal drownings
  • Swimming fatalities comprised 22% of all coastal drownings
  • Total coastal drownings were up from 43 to 49 people in 2019/20 season
  • Rock fishing fatalities comprised 16% of coastal drownings
  • Men made up 88% of all coastal drownings.

The 2020 SLSNSW Coastal Safety Report is a comprehensive summary and analysis of community perceptions, activities on the coast, coastal and ocean drowning deaths and related fatalities.

The report shows there was an overall increase in coastal and ocean drowning deaths during the 2019/20 season and that boating incidents comprised 31 percent of all fatalities on the NSW coastline – almost triple the 16-year average.

In the 12 months from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020, a total of 49 lives were lost on the NSW coastline, representing a 14 percent increase on last year’s figure and well above the 16-year average of 42 fatalities per year.

“The increase in coastal drowning fatalities last season is very concerning,” SLSNSW CEO Steven Pearce said.

“The statistics in this report show that many people continue to enjoy a multitude of recreational activities along our beautiful coastline, but every life lost is one too many.

“The increase in boating fatalities highlights the need for boaters to check weather conditions before heading out and always wear a correctly fitted lifejacket when on the water,” Steven Pearce, said.

George Shales OAM, Surf Life Saving NSW President, said that despite the January bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic ending the patrol season four weeks early, more than 10 million beach visitations were recorded in NSW in the 12 months from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020.

“Surf lifesavers and lifeguards rescued 3,186 people, treated 12,110 people for injuries or medical complaints, and performed 749,646 preventative actions,” Mr Shales said.

“The statistics reinforce the need for us to push surf safety messages throughout our communities. While our volunteer lifesaving and Lifeguard services continue to be the cornerstone of our service delivery across NSW, we will continue to invest in community education programs,” George Shales said.

Other key findings of the 2020 NSW Coastal Safety Report show that men continue to be overrepresented in coastal drownings – making up 88 percent of people who drowned. Forty-five percent of drownings occur at the beach, 22 percent of people who drowned were swimming at the time and 16 percent were rock fishing.

“Research into coastal and ocean drowning deaths continues to be a key focus for Surf Life Saving NSW to understand where, when, and why tragic incidents occur,” Steven Pearce said.

“This includes a state-wide coastal risk assessment project, known as Coastal insights: safer coasts for the future, which will be delivered by June 2023.”

Funded by the NSW Government, Coastal Insights is an evidence-based project that investigates the use of beaches, shore platforms and coastal waterways and explores what we can learn from the tragedies that have occurred.

The 2020 NSW Coastal Safety Report is a valuable resource for government, water safety organisations, emergency services, researchers, partners, sponsors, community groups and the media. It provides information on the recent trends in fatal coastal incidents in NSW and the preventative measures being undertaken by Surf Life Saving NSW. It is a vital tool to assist surf lifesavers to understand and reduce drowning deaths along the NSW coastline.

“As we head into the busy Christmas school holiday period, our message is simple, keep your friends and family safe by swimming at a patrolled beach, between the red and yellow flags, and wear a lifejacket when boating or rock fishing,” Steven Pearce concluded.

The Surf Life Saving NSW 2020 Coastal Safety Report can be downloaded here.

Coastal and Ocean Drowning Deaths – TOTAL 49

  • Far North Coast – 4
  • North Coast – 6
  • Mid North Coast – 2
  • Lower North Coast – 1
  • Hunter – 3
  • Central Coast – 4
  • Sydney Northern Beaches – 3
  • Sydney – 7
  • Illawarra – 5
  • South Coast – 3
  • Far South Coast – 6
  • Other – 5

Since 1 July 2020, there have been 17 coastal drownings recorded in NSW waters.

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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