The latest figures on drownings in Australia make grim reading but the director of lifesaving for Wollongong’s 17 beaches is calling for a more proactive approach to prevent deaths.
The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2012 shows 284 people drowned in Australian waterways between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, a reduction of three drownings, or 1per cent, on the five-year average.
Males continue to make up the majority of drowning deaths (82per cent), and people aged 55 and over make up the biggest single age bracket for drownings. Ninety-seven people aged 55 or over drowned in 2011-12, 34per cent of all drowning deaths.
Surf Life Saving Illawarra lifesaving director Ian Lee said there was a need to get lifesaving patrol strategies consistent with beach activities and expand surveillance.
‘‘We need to aim to be as efficient as we can be with the manpower and resources we have at our disposal,’’ he said.
Both volunteer lifesavers and professional lifeguards tell swimmers to swim at patrolled beaches and promote the ‘‘No Flags, No Swim’’ message.
Mr Lee agrees but said lifesavers and lifeguards needed to keep an eye on popular unpatrolled swimming spots, such as Puckeys Beach at North Wollongong and Sharkeys Beach at Coledale, by using all-terrain vehicles.
He also wants more patrol towers installed at Wollongong beaches to add to towers already at Fairy Meadow, Towradgi, Corrimal and Woonona.
‘‘It’s not unrealistic for people from south-west Sydney to drive to Austinmer. When these places get full, they will go to Sharkeys and Little Austinmer. Where you have the infrastructure – a car park, toilet block, barbecues, a shower – people will go there.’’
Puckeys was a good example.
‘‘If we think everyone from that area is going to squeeze into 40 to 50 metres of flags [at North Wollongong] we’re probably being a bit unrealistic ... people will still roll the dice and walk past the signs.’’
He praised the patrol work of Coledale Surf Club captain Darren Weidner and president Rob Arthur, who organised lifesavers to check on swimmers at Sharkeys.
Mr Lee also wants practical surf education programs, like the one for University of Wollongong international students, expanded.
McKeon’s Swim School director Susie McKeon said over 55s were often overconfident about their abilities.
Royal Life Saving is urging swimmers over 55 to get a medical and do a grey medallion course.
■ Mr Lee’s firm, Aquatic Safety Consultants Australia, imports patrol towers from the US.