Australians twice as likely to drown on public holidays

11 April 2019

In the lead up to the Easter long weekend Royal Life Saving is warning Australians about the increased risk of drowning over public holidays periods. Data reveals that 210 Australians drowned on public holidays over the past 15 years, with Australians twice as likely to drown on a public holiday than other days of the year. Popular inland locations such as the Swan River and Ord River have been named as the leading river black spots for drowning in WA.

Respect the River, a Royal Life Saving initiative supported by the Federal Government, aims to educate the public about the high risks associated with swimming in inland waterways and giving advice on how to stay safe in rivers, lakes and dams.

Royal Life Saving WA's Lauren Nimmo says “With many Western Australians making the most of the extended holiday period to travel around WA, we’re urging everyone to take care around the water this Easter long weekend. Whether you’re at the beach, on the river or visiting one of our beautiful National Parks - always remember that water conditions can change hourly and that the majority of these areas are not patrolled by lifeguards so safety becomes even more important.”

Alcohol is a significant contributor to public holiday drowning deaths with the risk of drink drowning being twice as high on these occasions. Men especially are susceptible to a higher risk and are four times more likely to drown than women.

Travellers are at greatest risk, with holiday makers aiming to get the most out of their long weekends, contributing to the high number of drownings. Intrastate and interstate visitors are 2.5 times more likely to drown on public holidays than other days of the year. This is primarily due to lack of knowledge and familiarity with the local waterways.

Mark Lush with his Bravery AwardIn August last year, Mandurah couple Debra and Kevin O’Meara were hiking along the Bibbulmun Track near Dwellingup when they became trapped in a strong river current while trying to cross what seemed a clear path through the Murray River. With chest high water, Kevin became caught in a blackberry bush, and Debra in a paperbark tree. Debra activated her EPIRB and this is when Mark Lush, a Bunbury forester, arrived to rescue them.

Mark says it was extremely fortunate he was in the right place at the right time. “They’d been in the water for almost an hour and Kevin was deteriorating. I felt a very human need to do something because no one else was there. I sized up the situation, thought about it logically and knew I had a good chance to help so got right into it.”

From the other side of the crossing Mark used a long rope to drag Kevin to safety, before using the same rope to pull Debra out. He says had he not arrived when he did the situation could have been very different. “Kevin was not in a good way and they were both suffering hypothermia, cuts and bruises. I gave them warm clothes to put on while we waited for emergency services to arrive and taken them to hospital.” Mark received a Royal Life Saving Bravery Award for his efforts in saving the pair's lives during a ceremony late last year.

Lauren Nimmo from Royal Life Saving WA says “The Swan and Ord Rivers are the leading river blackspots for drowning in WA. Our message to travellers and locals combined is to remain vigilant around water this holiday weekend. We want everyone to enjoy these beautiful natural environments, but to do so safely. Don’t overestimate your ability or underestimate the dangers. If you aren’t a strong swimmer, it’s best to stay dry. Avoid consuming alcohol if you plan on going for a swim or taking the boat out and save the drinks for later.”

Look out for your mates and follow these tips to stay safe around waterways this Easter Long Weekend:

  • Avoid alcohol around water
  • Check for submerged branches and currents before entering
  • Know your limits
  • Never swim alone
  • Learn how to resuscitate

Find out more about river and inland waterway safety at the link below.

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