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for almost half (47%) of all coastal drowning deaths (2004-17).

Non-fatal drowning incidents on beaches make up almost one-third (31%) of all non-fatal drowning in natural waters.

In the 13-year period (2004-17) 607 drowning deaths at beaches occurred, an average of 47 fatal drowning deaths each year.

A joint study between SLSA and Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA) investigated the impact of non-fatal drowning in Australia across a 13-year period (2002-15). During that time period 6,158 cases of non-fatal drowning were recorded across all aquatic environments (including swimming pools, bath tubs and natural waters), an average of 474 a year. That equates to a ratio of almost three non-fatal drowning incidents to every fatal drowning across all aquatic environments.

“The Australian coastline is blessed with almost 12,000 beaches with the mainland covering almost 36,000km. While some of these beaches are remote or not accessible, many are frequented often, with at least 200 million visitors to them every year,” Shane Daw, National Coastal Risk & Safety Manager SLSA said.

“However, the attraction of our coast comes with a price for far too many, which includes both fatal and non-fatal drowning events.’

Between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2015, a total of 504 non-fatal drowning incidents were recorded in beach environments. That represents an average of 38.8 non-fatal beach drowning incidents per year. The disparity between male and female non-fatal statistics is similar to those of fatal; 388 (77%) were male and 116 (23%) were female. However, the ratio of females to males is increasing over time, with females representing 17% of non-fatal drowning incidents in 2002-03 and 2003-04, and 33% in 2014-15.

The marked difference in ratios of males (0.91) and females (1.61) indicates that females are more often involved in non-fatal drowning incidents than fatal incidents, while for males the opposite is true. Hence, including non-fatal drowning data as part of the total drowning toll is particularly important for assessing the impact of drowning on females.

Initial research undertaken by Surf Life Saving Australia identifies an alarming disconnect between hazard perception and reality. 47% of beachgoers believe that the beach is not very, or not at all dangerous, with only 43% usually swimming at a patrolled location during patrol hours. The facts show that swimming and wading is the activity being undertaken when the highest number of fatal and non-fatal incidents occur.

A large portion, (84%), of beach drowning deaths were male, and while 85% were residents of Australia, only (36%) had Australia as their place of birth.

Whilst, swimming and wading was the key activity at the beach at the time of the fatality (60%), 14% were using watercraft, 7% snorkelling and 5% attempting a rescue.

A total of 61% of fatalities occurred between 12:00 pm and 6:00pm with 46% occurring more than 1 kilometre from a lifesaving service.

Surf Life Saving Australia urges all beach users to:

  • Where possible, swim at a patrolled beach, between the red and yellow flags
  • Obey the safety signs at the beach
  • Learn how to identify a rip current and look for rip currents before deciding where to swim
  • If you’re not sure, ask a lifesaver or lifeguard about the beach conditions
  • Wear a lifejacket while boating, rock fishing or paddling
  • Don’t go into or on the ocean during severe weather warnings
  • Take personal responsibility, think twice and assess your safety before entering the water
  • Supervise children at all times in, on and around water
  • Call 000 if assistance is required.

For the latest safety information – including patrolled beach locations – visit beachsafe.org.au

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