Alcohol And Drugs Involved In One Fifth Of Australian Drownings

New stats have prompted a warning from lifesavers

Beachgoers planning on making the most of a warm start to spring are being urged to listen to safety warnings, with new reports showing recent ocean drownings are above average.

The latest statistics from Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) revealed there were 110 coastal and ocean drowning deaths during 2017-18 -- above a 14-year average.

Men made up 80 percent of these.

Coastal drownings made up around half of all fatal drownings in the year, with a further 61 in rivers and creeks, 33 in swimming pools and 20 in lakes or dams.

"We need to acknowledge that these are not just numbers -- but people and could be someone we know or love," SLSA President Graham Ford said on Wednesday, also acknowledging the 10,249 rescues conducted across the country.

Surf life savers and members of the public crowd around a rescue at Bronte Beach in Sydney in August. Image: Getty

According to the National Coastal Safety Report, the groups at highest risk in New South Wales -- one of two states to see a rise in drowning fatalities this year -- were swimmers aged 20-29 and and rock fishers aged 20-24.

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Alcohol or drugs were involved in almost 20 percent of drownings.

Around half of coastal drowning deaths occurred at beaches, with 24 percent occurring offshore and 20 percent on rocks or cliffs.

National Coastal Safety Report 2018. Image: Surf Life Saving Australia

Two thirds of those occurred just one kilometre from a lifesaving service, and almost half between the hours of 12pm and 6pm, prompting a warning from lifesavers.

"With the patrol season just weeks away, we want to reiterate our key message to only swim at a patrolled location, where help is close by," SLS NSW CEO Steven Pearce said.

A woman screams for help as she is caught in a rip at Bronte Beach on August 30. Image: Getty

These statistics are only part of the picture, with federal Sports Minister Bridget McKenzie also releasing a Royal Life Saving report on Wednesday.

It found 249 drowning deaths and an estimated 551 hospitalisations across the country in 2017-18.

Justin Scarr, CEO of Royal Life Saving Australia, said this number -- the lowest ever recorded in Australia -- showed drowning prevention initiatives are working, but warned against complacency.

"Toddler drowning deaths have been dramatically reduced over time, yet drowning continues to be one of the leading causes of accidental death of children aged under five years," he said.

"Swimming and water safety education remains a key priority for all school aged children."

RLSA's beach safety tips:
  • Always swim between the red and yellow patrol flags
  • 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 Police
  • Don’t forget to be sun safe by remembering to: slip on some protective clothing, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat, slide on a pair of sunglasses, seek some shade and sip on lots of water to stay hydrated
  • For information about patrol times, weather, and beach locations visit the Beachsafe website or download the app

Contact the author at ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au.