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Australia Day surf deaths: beach drownings preventable

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A dramatic increase in preventable coastal drownings during the Australia Day period has been described as “distressing” by the man who oversees the nation’s beach safety.

Surf Life Saving Australia’s general manager of coastal safety, Shane Daw, has lamented a sharp spike in deaths on the coast during the January 22-26 period during the past two years.

In the four days between Friday and Australia Day yesterday, seven people drowned along the nation’s coastline.

That began with three rock fisherman who died on Tuesday when they were swept off rocks at Port Kembla near Wollongong.

The figure is more than double the three drowning fatalities over the same period last year, while four died in coastal drownings in 2019.

“We see it as a significant increase; it’s distressing,” Mr Daw told NCA NewsWire.

“It’s impacting on families and on emergency services. The impact is far reaching and the fatalities have included a range of people from young children to adults.

“These aren’t numbers, these are family members. They are mothers and fathers and sons and daughters; they’re loved ones who have left families behind.”

Summer drownings – those that have occurred since December 1 – have killed 31 people in Australia.

Although 31 is equal to the same period last year, as well as the 16-year average, Mr Daw said it was alarming and a majority were easily preventable.

“One is too many,” he said. “The question is, how many of your family is an acceptable number to be involved in a drowning incident?

“The answer is zero and we should aim for zero summer drownings. That’s an acceptable target and it’s not unrealistic; a lot of these drownings are preventable.

“We think everybody should be alarmed by the fact we’ve seen 31 lives lost since December 1 on our coastlines.”

Mr Daw said contributing factors included good weather, large swells and some alcohol.

But the overall concern was that people had underestimated the dangers of surf conditions and unpatrolled beaches. Australia has approximately 12,000 beaches.

“Some great weather came in over this Australia Day period and there was a pretty large swell around the east coast of Australia, in VIC and NSW, where majority of incidents have occurred,” he said.

“But it’s more that people are putting themselves in some very risky situations and taking unnecessary risks, which do impact on survival.

“We need people to understand they can make a difference by knowing where they’re going, swimming between the flags and if you’re going to an unpatrolled beach, know where the risks are.”

Mr Daw urged people to download Surf Life Saving Australia’s Beachsafe app or visit the website.

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