NSW drowning deaths: Coastal water safety roundtable to convene

The NSW government will convene an expert roundtable after more than a dozen people drowned at the state’s beaches in a horror summer.

36 people have drowned at coastal locations since July 1, 2023, with 14 deaths in the last summer alone.

This follows two years of heightened rates of drownings, with 48 deaths occurring between July 1 2022, to June 30, 2023, and 52 people dying in the same period between 2021 to 2022.

The Coastal Water Safety Roundtable will bring together rescue groups, government agencies, water safety experts, with NSW Emergency Services Minister Jihad Dib leading the discussion.

Attendees will discuss latest beach safety research, how messaging can target the most at-risk communities – like culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) groups – and examine whether more resources need to be deployed at unpatrolled beaches where several of the deaths occurred this summer.

Lifesavers call for more safety measures at state beaches following two Easter drownings

In January, Central Coast local and father-of-six Michael Sneddon, 39, tragically drowned at Ettalong Beach – an unpatrolled beach near Woy Woy, while trying to save his son from a rip.

At the time his mum, Lilian Sneddon-Camilleri, urged families to avoid unpatrolled swimming spots.

While beachgoers and two nearby jet skiers managed to pull Mr Sneddon’s son from the water, he was found unresponsive and was unable to be revived by paramedics.

“He was a good son, and I loved him. I just want other parents to learn from this. Don’t swim where there’s no supervision, and have safety things, like life jackets, on you,” she said.

“I don’t want other people to go through this.”

Surf Life Saving NSW (SLSNSW) chief executive Steve Pearce said increasing awareness around the dangers of swimming at unpatrolled beaches will be a priority.

“All of the 14 coastal drownings over summer have occurred at unpatrolled locations. It’s important we focus on education, early alerting to incidents and equipping our lifesavers with the tools they need to respond quickly,” he said.

“Lifesavers and lifeguards do an incredible job, so our focus needs to turn to how to prevent people drowning when we can’t be there to prevent these tragedies.”

He also thanked the government for its recording $23m four-year funding commitment to SLSNSW which he said helped increase awareness and education outreach programs to CALD groups who are “over-represented within the NSW coastal drowning statistics”.

Mr Dib said he hoped the round table would look at ways to build water safety awareness in communities and other “preventative actions,” as well as assessing current emergency response plans.

He also applauded the efforts of SLSNSW volunteers and paid lifesavers, who have conducted more than 3750 rescues since July 1 of last year.

“Water safety is a shared responsibility that requires a united effort, and we want to identify opportunities to further reduce the number of lives lost along our coast,” he said.

“We want every person in NSW to be able to enjoy our stunning coastline and waterways safely, and this roundtable is all about finding ways to do that as more people visit the beach every year.”

According to figures from Royal Life Saving Australia, there were a total of 30 drownings across NSW this summer, with an overwhelming majority of deaths occurring at beaches (40 per cent, or 12 deaths). 17 per cent drownings also happened at ocean and harbour pools.

Australia’s nationwide summer drowning toll also increased 10 per cent year-on-year to 99 deaths, with more than a quarter of deaths (26 per cent) recorded between Christmas and New Year (December 25 to January 2).

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