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Despite predictions of severe thunderstorms and rain across Eastern Australia to end 2023, volunteer lifesavers and lifeguards are remaining vigilant ahead of what has traditionally proven one of the most challenging and dangerous times of the year.

New Years is a high-risk period for coastal incidents and drownings – three times more likely than on any other day – and Surf Life Saving NSW is reminding people to heed safety warnings around alcohol and swimming or boating, and swimming at unpatrolled locations, where the vast bulk of tragedies occur this time of year.

Revellers are encouraged to avoid swimming at night, outside of patrol hours and in remote locations if celebrating the occasion at the beach, and reminded that recreational drugs, alcohol and the ocean can be a deadly combination.

While Northern NSW is preparing for severe thunderstorms to develop from today and continue into the new year, with forecast highs in the late 20s, Surf Life Saving NSW still expects to see large numbers visiting the beach further down the coastline where moderate temperatures may be met with overcast conditions across the weekend.

NSW averages six (6) coastal drowning deaths during the month of December over the past five years, and has reached that number this year. Volunteers are fearful that the number will climb should the public not take caution this weekend.

“The New Year period has always been one of the busiest on our beaches, and following last year where our lifesavers made more than 200 rescues on New Years Day alone, we are preparing for another busy period as we ring in 2024,” said Surf Life Saving NSW CEO, Steve Pearce.

Indeed, volunteer lifesavers completed more than 6,000 preventative actions on 1 January 2023, being actions that reduce or eliminate the possibility of a rescue, first aid or other reportable incident from occurring.

Where the wild weather is predicted to hit hardest, the SLSNSW Far North Coast Support Operations team will be fully operational during the New Year festivities conducting surveillance patrols along the coast and assisting other emergency services.

The Australian Lifeguard Service (ALS) will also extend patrols at Byron Bay for the evening of 31 December, with lifeguards on duty into the early hours of the morning to keep revellers safe.

“We are asking everyone not to enter the water over New Years if the conditions develop as predicted. Severe thunderstorms, destructive winds, giant hail and heavy rainfall are all possible and could make conditions at the beach treacherous,” said Far North Coast Duty Officer, Jimmy Keough.

Meanwhile, in Sydney, an expanded Support Operations service including more Duty Officers and rescue-ready jet skis will be on call for any incidents that arise.

“It’s the uncertain conditions which presents difficulties for our lifesavers in terms of how to prepare for what might happen,” Steve Pearce reiterated.

“We’re just really urging potential beachgoers to take heed of those basic safety messages; don’t swim at unpatrolled locations – look for the red and yellow flags because if our lifesavers can’t see you they can’t save you, and understand your limits when entering the ocean.”

Sunday 31 December 2023