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"Strange and tragic" surf life saving season officially ends

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Surf Life Saving NSW says it has been a "strange and tragic" season. Image courtesy SLS NSW.

Surf Life Saving NSW has released figures for the 2019/2020 season which has officially ended.

The organisation says it was a strange and tragic season for surf lifesavers with a higher than average number of coastal drownings.

 The Far South Coast recorded four drownings and 19 rescues.

Surf Life Saving NSW Ceo Steve Pearce says of particular note was the way Surf Life Saving NSW embraced its new role as an emergency service.

He says during the NSW bushfire disaster, over 10,000 people were sheltered by surf life saving clubs as the bushfires descended on Bermagui, Broulee and Batemans Bay.

"It will be remembered for the way volunteer surf lifesavers worked alongside other emergency service personnel in response to both the NSW bushfire crisis and the widespread beach closures, caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, which ended the patrol season four weeks early. Tragically, the 2019/20 patrol season will also be remembered for a higher than average number of coastal drownings," Mr Pearce said. 

Rock fishing continues to be Australia's most dangerous sport

"Tragically, the increase in preventative actions at patrolled locations did not reduce the total number of drownings on the NSW coastline - outside patrolled areas. With 42 coastal drownings, the 2019/20 figures are above the 10-year average of 40 fatalities. Sadly, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the summer bushfires on reducing beach attendance has had little or no impact on reducing the number of deaths on the NSW coastline. 

"Unusually, boating-related coastal drownings were the most common this season. There were more than double the number of boating-related coastal drownings when compared to the 10-year average. Currently, 27 percent of NSW coastal drownings relate to boating activities. 

"Swimming-related drownings were the second most common after boating fatalities. However, they were down this season by 10 percent compared to the 10-year average. Historically, swimming has been the activity that leads to most coastal drownings, so the reduction is good news for surf lifesavers who target swimmers as a key demographic in coastal safety messaging.  

"Emergency support operations were increased during the COVID-19 lockdown and call-out teams across NSW have been kept busy despite the patrol season concluding and the widespread beach closures.

"There was no reduction in the number of call-outs during the 2019/20 season - despite the reduction in beach attendance. There were approximately 600 emergency call-outs which demonstrates that the number of support operations responses are not directly linked to beach attendance figures. Rather, activities like boating and rock-fishing in less populated areas are the activities that lead to the most requests for emergency assistance. 

"Rock fishing continues to be Australia’s most dangerous sport and this season’s statistics show there has been no decline in coastal drownings related to this activity, with eight fatalities in the last 12 months - equal to the 10 year average. Shockingly, 81 percent of people who lost their lives rock fishing this season were not wearing a life jacket. It is unknown whether a further 14 percent of people who drowned were wearing a life jacket or not. A mere five percent of people who drowned were confirmed to have been wearing a life jacket," Mr Pearce said.