One-fifth of NSW watercraft drownings in the Illawarra, South Coast: new report

Royal Life Saving's Ian Kennerley is alarmed at the number of people drowning in or along the region's waterways. Picture: Robert Peet

Royal Life Saving’s Ian Kennerley is alarmed at the number of people drowning in or along the region’s waterways. Picture: Robert Peet

EXCLUSIVE

One-fifth of the state’s watercraft-related drownings during the past 10 years happened in the Illawarra and South Coast, a new report has revealed. 

Royal Life Saving (RLS) will on Friday release a region-specific boating and watercraft drowning report, which provides a snapshot of our most lethal aquatic activities and the high-risk behaviours that contributed to the deaths.

In the 10 years to the end of June 2015, 149 people died in boating and watercraft-related incidents across NSW.

Of that number, 31 people (20.8 per cent) died in the Illawarra and South Coast.

A snapshot from Royal Life Saving’s Illawarra and South Coast 10-year analysis of boating and watercraft drownings.

A snapshot from Royal Life Saving’s Illawarra and South Coast 10-year analysis of boating and watercraft drownings.

A staggering 83.8 per cent of the Illawarra/South Coast deaths were male, while 80.5 per cent (25 people) were aged between 35 and 75.

One death was recorded in each of the 0-14 years and 18-24 years categories.

There were no deaths in the 15-17 age bracket.

Despite drownings typically being associated with young children, RLS said there had been an increase in the number of deaths occurring among middle-aged and older Australians.

Fishing was the region’s most lethal aquatic activity, accounting for 35 per cent of the total deaths.

Alarmingly, lifejackets were worn in just 10 per cent of the incidents, while 42 per cent involved drugs and 35 per cent were linked to alcohol consumption.

RLS Illawarra regional manager Ian Kennerley said the number of people drowning in and along the region’s waterways was “alarming”.

Mr Kennerley said waterways could be “very hazardous environments” and the risks were “amplified by risk-taking behaviours and the consumption of alcohol”.

The report also found, probably not surprisingly, that most deaths happened on the weekend. 

Spring was the deadliest season and most of the people (61.3 per cent) were local to the area they drowned.

On the back of the alarming lifejacket statistics, a mobile Old4New lifejacket program will visit the region.

For locations: maritimemanagement.transport.nsw.gov.au/lifejackets/old4new

BOATING AND WATERCRAFT DROWNINGS – Illawarra and South Coast

Who: Males accounted for 83.8 per cent of boating and watercraft drowning deaths. The highest number occurred in people aged over 65 years (22.5%), 55-64 years (22.5%) and 45 – 54 years (19.4%).  80.5% occurred among men aged between 35 – 75 years.

Time and location: 64.5% occurred on Saturday and Sunday in the afternoon. The highest number of boating and watercraft drowning deaths in this region occurred in the spring (45.2%), and in summer (25.8%).

Most (61.3%) were locals to the location where they drowned, and 29.0% were intra-state visitors.

Most boating and watercraft related occurred when using powered boats 5-10m in size (12.9%), paddlecraft, including canoes, kayaks and surf skis (12.9%).

The top activities prior to drowning were fishing (35.5%) and whilst on the move (25.8%). 

High-risk behaviour: Alcohol was present in 35.4%, of which half were above the legal limit for operating a vessel. Drugs were recorded in 41.9% of cases, with 38.4% having consumed illegal substances.

Only 10% of people were found to have been wearing lifejackets at the time of the incident. In one instance, lifejackets were found on-board the board.

Source: Graphs and information from Royal Life Saving’s Illawarra and South Coast 10-year analysis of boating and watercraft drownings