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The release today of the 2022 NSW Coastal Safety Report by Surf Life Saving NSW reveals that 2021/22 recorded the highest number of coastal drownings on record – up almost 30% on the 10-year average.

Last year’s drowning toll equalled the previous highest recorded figure in 2015/16 where 55 people in NSW lost their lives on our beaches, in the ocean, coastal waterways and rock platforms.

December to February also claimed the record for the most coastal and ocean drowning deaths over summer, with 25 fatalities recorded, despite the higher than usual rainfall from La Niña and reduced beach attendances.

In particular, rock fishing deaths increased significantly to 11, up from 8 the year prior. Rock fishing continues a year-on-year trend as the second highest cause of coastal drowning (behind swimming/wading).

Surf Life Saving NSW is partnering with the NSW Government to tackle the spike in rock fishing deaths by delivering our largest ever rock fishing safety initiative.

Surf Life Saving NSW Director of Lifesaving Joel Wiseman said the first rock fishing skills session was held at the notorious rock fishing blackspot, Hill 60 in Port Kembla, last weekend, with more than 100 rock fishers taking part.

“This summer we’ll see more of these skills sessions held up and down the New South Wales coast, providing participants with life-saving information and a free life jacket,” Mr Wiseman said.

“It was also pleasing to see that Wollongong City Council has voted to introduce mandatory lifejacket legislation for rock fishers, becoming the ninth LGA to do so.”

Other trends highlighted by the NSW Coastal Safety Report include an over-representation of males in coastal drowning incidents – 87% compared with just 13% females. Over 60% of those who drowned were aged 40+ years.

Boating was also a big cause of drowning with eight people boating or using personal watercraft when they drowned.

“Regardless of what you’re doing on the water, it’s absolutely vital that you check the conditions prior to heading out, understand the environment you are entering, understand your own limitations and abilities, and ensure you are well-equipped should things go wrong,” said Joel Wiseman.

Over the 2021/22 season, surf lifesavers, Australian Lifeguard Service lifeguards and support operations rescued more than 4000 people in NSW, and volunteers spent over 621,000 hours on patrol. The number of emergency callouts responded to by Surf Life Saving increased to 791 for the year.

Key Findings in 2021-22 

  • Highest number of coastal drownings on record – 55
  • Swimming fatalities comprised 29% of all coastal and ocean drownings
  • Rock fishing fatalities climbed to 11 a 37% increase
  • Boating fatalities comprised 15% of all coastal drownings
  • Men made up 87% of all coastal drownings
  • 62% of people drowned were aged 40+

Drownings by Surf Life Saving Branch

Far North Coast – 2

North Coast – 3

Mid North Coast – 0

Lower North Coast – 4

Hunter – 3

Central Coast – 4

Sydney Northern Beaches – 6

Sydney – 12

Illawarra – 6

South Coast – 7

Far South Coast – 5

Other – 3


  • 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.

Friday 16 September 2022