Two of the friendly faces on lifeguard duty at Tannum Sands beach, who are urging people to be sun and water-smart this summer, are Mariah Vaughan and Greg Stratford.
Two of the friendly faces on lifeguard duty at Tannum Sands beach, who are urging people to be sun and water-smart this summer, are Mariah Vaughan and Greg Stratford. Luka Kauzlaric

Drowning on the rise as safety message sinks without trace

THE summer heat lures many residents to the water, but an increase in drowning deaths over the past year in Australia shows the safety message hasn't sunk in.

A report released by the Royal Life Saving Society shows 291 people drowned in Australia between July 1, 2012 and June 30, 2013.

This is an increase of 15 drowning deaths, or 5%, on the adjusted total of 276 drowning deaths the previous year.

With 22% of deaths occurring at beaches and 16% occurring in the ocean or harbour locations, the report is a sobering reminder to show extra caution at the region's own popular offerings.

On the harbour

As the number of boats increase in the region's waterways, it becomes more challenging to prevent accidents and serious injuries.

Volunteer Marine Rescue Gladstone controller and skipper Greg Sharp said the past year had been "a bit of a mixed bag" in terms of incidents.

"A lot of people go beyond their capabilities," he said, explaining that as a skipper you had other people's lives in your hands so safety was paramount.

The main problems the Gladstone branch comes across is insufficient fuel, batteries not properly charged and unforeseen engine failure.

"There's a lot more traffic running into Auckland Creek," Mr Sharp said, urging people to take into account ferry, tug and other ship movements.

Mr Sharp said the rules on the water were easy to remember: "Give way to people on the right."

He said it was always a good idea to log on and off with VMR Gladstone, as by providing a few details if something happens they will know where to start looking.

"If there is someone else near them that will be able to help them out quickly, we can contact them," he said.

"Nine times out of 10 there will be someone close by."

As for advice on making sure people have a safe time on the water, he said it was all about preparation.

"Check the safety gear, check the lifejackets are in good condition, check the weather, make sure the boat is seaworthy," he said.

GLADSTONE VMR’s rescue boat - ready to help.
GLADSTONE VMR’s rescue boat - ready to help. Christopher Chan

At the beach

GLADSTONE Regional Council parks and recreation portfolio spokesman Graham McDonald said the council was urging residents to take care at the region's beaches and to follow the direction of surf life savers in patrolled areas.

Earlier this year, the council budgeted to financially assist local surf groups to enable them to provide extra beach patrols during holiday periods.

"Surf Life Saving Clubs at Tannum Sands and Agnes Water share in $159,000 of council sponsorship to assist with provision of beach patrols," Cr McDonald said.

"This has allowed lifeguard beach patrols to be extended by an extra two hours daily at Agnes Water and for extra patrols to be provided at Tannum Sands beach over the school holiday period."

Surf Life Saving Queensland lifesaving services co-ordinator Julie Davis said beaches in the Gladstone region were generally safe.

However, as both Tannum Sands and Agnes Water beaches were long, there would now be two lifeguards stationed at them over the school holidays on weekdays.

"We need two so one can rove the beach while the other stays to watch between the flags," she explained.

Ms Davis said there were emergency beach beacons at various parts of the Tannum beach stretch so people could push a button to activate a signal if anything untoward happened.

"Don't be afraid to talk to lifeguards and lifesavers; we're not scary," Ms Davis said.

Drowning facts:

  • 99 (34%) drowning deaths occurred in inland waterway locations
  • 65 (22%) drowning deaths occurred at beach locations
  • 45 (16%) drowning deaths occurred in ocean/harbour locations
  • 58 people (20%) were using watercraft immediately prior to drowning
  • 52 people (18%) drowned as a result of falls into water
  • 48 people (16%) were swimming and recreating immediately prior to drowning

*Source: Royal Life Saving Society 2012/2013 report