Surf Life Saving Queensland is pleading with beachgoers to use common sense and put safety first this summer after releasing its 2015 Coast Safe Report on Friday, which reveals there were ten beach-related coastal drowning deaths in in the 12 month period from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2015.
This figure represents an increase from seven during the previous year and, tragically, 80 per cent of drownings occurred less than one kilometre from a patrol service.
A review of coastal drowning deaths across the past 12 months reveals that North Queensland and the Sunshine Coast (including Noosa) were the most common regions, each recording 30 per cent of fatalities, followed by the Gold Coast with 20 per cent.
Green Island in North Queensland and Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast were the most common individual locations for drowning deaths last season, each recording two fatalities.
By comparison, across the past ten years there were 78 beach-related coastal drowning deaths in Queensland, with the Gold Coast accounting for 34 of these (43.5%) and the Sunshine Coast, including Noosa, recording 18 (23%).
Following the report, SLSQ has identified seven coastal black-spots across the state, including two on the Sunshine Coast and two on the Gold Coast.
SLSQ chief operating officer George Hill said a close look at the statistics reinforced the need to swim at patrolled locations only, reminding beachgoers there had never been a preventable drowning recorded between SLSQ’s red and yellow flags.
“Of the ten drownings that occurred on Queensland beaches last year, all of them occurred either at an unpatrolled location or outside of designated patrol times, which is disappointing and certainly something that we’re working hard to address,” he said.
“In fact, last year 80 per cent of all drownings were less than one kilometre from a patrol service. It’s heartbreaking to think that if these people had only spent a few extra minutes walking to the red and yellow flags, they might still be with us today.
“There has never been a drowning between Surf Life Saving Queensland’s red and yellow flags, and that’s definitely not a coincidence,” he said.
Interestingly, 100 per cent of coastal drowning victims in the past 12 month were male, with Mr Hill suggesting they were generally more prone to taking risks and overestimating their ability in the surf.
While 40 per cent of all coastal drowning deaths occurred between the peak summer months of December, January and February, there were also drownings recorded in autumn, winter and spring indicating that members of the public are continuing to swim year-round.
There was a 50-50 split between weekends and weekdays, with Saturday the most common individual day, recording 40 per cent of coastal drowning deaths.
Mr Hill said SLSQ was committed to working in consultation with stakeholders at all levels, including local Councils and tourism agencies, to reduce drownings and offer even greater protection to beachgoers. While significant advancements in coastal safety have been made across the past ten years, he said more work could be done to save lives.
“In the past ten years we’ve expanded services and introduced new initiatives, including dawn, helicopter and roving patrols in various regions across the state. In addition we educated more than half-a-million people about surf safety last year alone,” he said.
“We’ve made it considerably easier for beachgoers to find, and swim at, patrolled locations and yet, unfortunately, people are still choosing to risk their lives by swimming outside of the flags.
“As an organisation we are more committed than ever to eliminating drowning deaths and saving lives, and we will continue to explore all avenues moving forward to educate, inform and protect the beach-going public,” he said.
The report’s release coincides with the launch of SLSQ’s 2015/16 volunteer patrol season, which will see thousands of surf lifesavers across the state return to the beach and patrol every weekend and public holiday until May 2016.
Last year the ‘red and yellow army’ of volunteer surf lifesavers spent 352,805 hours on patrol along Queensland’s coastline, performing 126,369 preventative actions to proactively safeguard swimmers, treated 6647 first aid patients and, most importantly, directly saved the lives of 2,213 people through in-water rescues.
Meanwhile, SLSQ’s professional lifeguard service performed 522,462 preventative actions, 12,458 first aid treatments and saved 1,435 lives.
SLSQ’s coastal black-spots:
Far North Queensland:
• Green Island
Wide Bay Capricorn:
• Elliott River, Elliott Heads
• Stumers Creek, Coolum to Sunshine Beach
• Marcoola SLSC to Point Arkwright
• Surfers Paradise Tower 33 to Tower 37
• Southport SLSC to Southport Seaway
• North Stradbroke Island, ocean side