New South Wales Sees Spike in Coastal Drownings This Summer, Warning for Australia Day

By Steve Milne
Steve Milne
Steve Milne
Steve is an Australian reporter based in Sydney covering sport, the arts, and politics. He is an experienced English teacher, qualified nutritionist, sports enthusiast, and amateur musician. Contact him at
January 24, 2022Updated: January 24, 2022

The New South Wales (NSW) Government is urging beachgoers to be responsible for their own safety ahead of the Australia Day holiday (Jan.26) after an increase in coastal drownings so far this summer.

According to a media release on Saturday, since Dec.1, 15 coastal deaths and drownings have occurred, which is two up from the same time last year.

Premier Dominic Perrottet stressed the importance of swimming between the flags, being alert to water safety warnings, and looking out for loved ones in and close to the water.

“Australia Day is traditionally a high-risk holiday on our waterways. While our lifesavers and first responders are always vigilant, this is one of the days where more rescues and sadly drownings often occur,” he said.

“Whether you’re at a beach, pool, river or lake, my message to swimmers is to know the risks, be aware of your surroundings and look out for each other.”

Minister for Emergency Services and Resilience, Steph Cooke, highlighted some simple precautions people can take to stay safe in and around water.

“A tragedy can unfold in seconds on our beaches. Please supervise children, swim between the flags, wear a life jacket when required and always listen to the warnings from emergency services,” she said.

“I want to thank the 75,000 Surf Life Saving NSW volunteers and 129 surf clubs who have worked tirelessly this summer to keep locals and visitors safe on our beaches.”

The volunteers of these 129 surf clubs patrol their beaches on weekends, while at the busiest NSW beaches, such as Bondi and Manly, councils also provide a professional lifeguard service seven days a week all year round.

However, many NSW beaches and beaches around the country are unpatrolled.

Surf Life Saving NSW CEO Steve Pearce said despite all the wet weather recently, Surf Life Saving NSW has been incredibly busy during the holiday period and reminded people ahead of Australia Day that alcohol and water activities don’t mix.

Over the 2021 Australia Day long weekend, lifeguards and surf life-saving volunteers rescued 815 people in NSW, which made up 22 percent of all rescues recorded that year.

Meanwhile, since July 1, 2021, NSW has seen more than 31 coastal drownings and deaths in NSW, 5 of whom were rock fishermen.

This comes after the most recent National Drowning Report found that around Australia’s coastlines, 241 people lost their lives between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021—136 due to drowning. This was 19 percent above the 17-year average of 114.

Males accounted for 90 percent of all coastal drownings, with 31 percent aged 20 to 34 years and 26 percent aged 60 to 74 years.

The majority of drowning deaths along the coasts occurred more than five kilometres from a surf life-saving service (51 percent), and 31 percent took place while swimming.

Coastal drownings involving a bystander trying to rescue someone in distress increased by 150 percent over the 12 months compared to the 17-year average, and strong rip currents at unpatrolled beaches were identified as the major cause.

Surf Life Saving Australia CEO Adam Weir called the sharp increase in fatal coastal incidents “unexpected,” but attributed it to the high visitation rates to the coast during and when coming out of lockdowns.

Weir said that 14.4 million Australians over 16 visited the coast over the 12-month period, on average three times a month.

“That’s 500 million visits to the coast,” he said.