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With five coastal drownings in five days and a significant increase in boating fatalities, surf lifesavers are pleading with the public to always wear a lifejacket when boating after the worst start to a season on record.

“In the first five days of the 2020/21 season there were five coastal drownings. This is an horrific start to the season and the worst on record” said Steven Pearce, CEO of Surf Life Saving NSW.

“This calendar year has also been the worst year on record for boating-related coastal drownings with nine fatalities in just six months. This is more than double the ten-year average.

“Over the past two years we have seen a significant increase in boating-related fatalities in NSW which is very concerning.

“Tragically, many of the people who drowned recently were not wearing a lifejacket, meaning their deaths may have been prevented if they were wearing one.

“Along with Marine Rescue, we are pleading with boat owners to take more care of themselves and their passengers and ensure that everyone has access to an approved, properly fitting lifejacket. We strongly recommend always wearing one when boating,” Pearce said.

Surf Life Saving NSW has responded to the following fatal boating incidents since 1 January 2020:

  • 10 March - Narooma Bar (two fatalities)

  • 16 April - Port Kembla (one fatality)

  • 6 June - Burrill Beach (one fatality)

  • 6 June - Bulli (two fatalities)

  • 5 July - La Perouse, Cape Banks (three fatalities).

Since January 2018, there has been a significant increase in boating fatalities on the NSW coastline. In the 2019/20 season there were 11 fatalities which is more than two-and-a-half times the 10-year average of 4.1 per season.

Surf Life Saving NSW (SLSNSW) is a gazetted emergency service organisation that responds to coastal emergencies, including boating incidents. It has not experienced any decline in requests for assistance - despite the COVID-19 pandemic ending the summer patrol season four weeks early and a 21-percent reduction in beach attendance.

Surf Life Saving NSW’s emergency call-out teams - which utilise inflatable rescue boats, Jetskis, offshore jetboats, drones and helicopters for search and rescue - continued normal frontline operations during the COVID-19 social distancing lock-down period and were as busy as ever last season. They are anticipating a busy summer season this year as holidaymakers travel locally, rather than internationally, due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Joel Wiseman, Director of Lifesaving at SLSNSW said that although SLSNSW emergency callout teams are always on standby on the NSW coastline and respond quickly to Triple-0 (000) calls, inevitably people have a responsibility to look after themselves.

“We want to send a strong message to all boat owners and rock fishers that lifejackets save lives,” Joel Wiseman said.

“What makes the recent increase in boating-related drownings so tragic is that in many instances these deaths could have been avoided if lifejackets had been worn.

“Our rescue operations teams are on standby to respond quickly in an emergency, but the chance of a successful rescue is significantly increased if people wear lifejackets.

“We’ve also seen some fatal incidents recently where the outcome would have been different if people who were actually wearing a lifejacket did it up properly. Not doing up a lifejacket renders it almost useless,” said Wiseman.

Mr Wiseman said that the alarming increase in fatalities over the past six months demonstrates that there is no room for complacency on the water - regardless of your swimming ability or surf conditions.

“Boat owners and rock fishers need to ensure that they have access to a properly fitting lifejacket that meets Australian standards and are responsible for ensuring that their passengers do too,”

“We want people to enjoy their time on the water and stay safe by always wearing a lifejacket so that that at the end of the day they can go home to their families,” Wiseman concluded.

More information on approved lifejackets is available on the NSW Government Roads and Maritime website.

Surf Life Saving NSW Coastal Drowning Statistics

  • 2020/21 has had the worst start to the season on record with five coastal drownings in five days in NSW

  • The 10-year average number of coastal drownings in NSW for the month of July is 2.8

  • During the 2019/20 season, there were 11 boating-related fatalities (more than 2.5 times the 10-year average of 4.1)

  • 2019/20 was the first season where boating accidents resulted in the highest number of drownings in NSW (boating: 11, swimming: 8 and rock fishing: 8)

  • Historically, the two activities that resulted in the highest number of coastal drownings in NSW has been Swimming (10-year avg: 12) followed by rock-fishing (10-year avg: 8). Boating is usually third (10-year avg: 5)

  • During 2019/20 there were 42 coastal drowning fatalities in NSW which was above the ten-year average of 40

  • Surf lifesavers across NSW performed 2,499 rescues, 6,023 first-aid treatments and 192,471 preventative actions during the 2019/20 season.

About Surf Life Saving NSW

  • Surf Life Saving NSW is a gazetted Emergency Service organisation. Clubs, branches and the state body work together with Police, Ambulance, Marine Area Command, Marine Rescue and the State Emergency Service

  • SLSNSW operates three offshore rescue boats in NSW: Ballina Jet Boat Rescue Service, Surf Rescue 30 (Sydney) and Surf Rescue 50 (Kiama)

  • SLSNSW, through the Australian UAV Service, currently operates two UAV programs: the NSW Department of Primary Industries Program (34 locations) and the Westpac Life Saver Rescue Drone Program (27 locations).

SLSNSW Safety Tips

  • Boaties should seek advice from Marine Rescue NSW and always wear a lifejacket

  • 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-0 (000) Police

  • For information about patrol times, weather, and beach locations visit the Beachsafe website or download the app.


Monday 13 July 2020