Skip to main content

The 2023 NSW Coastal Safety Report has highlighted a stark increase in bystander rescue drownings along with the finding that more than half of coastal drownings are happening in regional and remote areas.

Friday 1 December is National Water Safety Day and Surf Life Saving NSW is urging people to take safety seriously this summer after 48 people lost their lives on NSW beaches and coastal waters last year.

The rise in attempted rescues by members of the public who end up drowning themselves (bystander rescues), is a worrying trend that lifesavers don’t want repeated this summer.

A spate of these rescues occurred last summer, including a tragic end to a family holiday for a father who drowned while trying to save his daughter from a rip current at an unpatrolled beach near Black Head on 3 January. Just two days earlier, an off-duty police officer died while rescuing his teenage son from a rip at a secluded beach near Narooma on the Far South Coast.

“It’s absolutely natural to want to try to save someone from drowning, especially a loved one. But without the necessary skills or equipment, it can be a deadly decision,” said SLSNSW President Peter Agnew.

“It’s what makes swimming at an unpatrolled beach so dangerous.”

The NSW Coastal Safety Report also found that getting caught in a rip current remains the number one contributor to coastal drowning, with 27% occurring as a result.

Twelve people also drowned at coastal locations in National Parks, another worrying trend and a reminder of the dangers of unpatrolled beaches.

Emergency Services Minister Jihad Dib said the NSW Government is increasing funding to expand the rollout of Emergency Response Beacons at blackspot locations and new jetskis for volunteers to conduct patrols along remote stretches of coastline this summer.

“Australia has some of the most enviable beaches in the world and as the holidays approach we know that people will take advantage of a getaway to enjoy our coastline,” said Minister Dib.

“People on holidays may find themselves in conditions that are unfamiliar or unsafe, please swim at patrolled beaches and speak to Surf Life Saving volunteers to better understand local conditions as they can change quickly.”

“Volunteers on our beaches and our emergency services are well equipped to respond, by swimming safely and within your abilities we can make sure you enjoy a day at the beach without needing their help.”

In 2022-23, lifesavers, lifeguards and support operations personnel responded to 753 emergency callouts, rescued more than 4,780 people and conducted 861,000 preventative actions.

The full NSW Coastal Safety Report is available here.


  • Coastal drownings totalled 48
  • 51% of fatalities occurred in regional or remote areas
  • Bystander rescue fatalities climbed to 8 (150% increase on 10-year average)
  • 27% of coastal drownings were rip-current related
  • Men made up 83% of all coastal drownings
  • Rockfishing fatalities represent 13% of total deaths


Far North Coast – 4

North Coast – 2

Mid North Coast – 2

Lower North Coast – 2

Hunter – 5

Central Coast – 4

Sydney Northern Beaches – 6

Sydney – 11

Illawarra – 2

South Coast – 7

Far South Coast – 2

Other – 1

Wednesday 29 November 2023