It was a tragic start to the summer surf lifesaving patrol period, with a 24-year-old man drowning while swimming at Stanwell Park Beach on the first October weekend.
Fortunately there have been no more drownings at the region's 17 patrolled beaches, from Stanwell Park to Windang, this season, although surf lifesavers have been kept busy on weekends and public holidays.
Surf Life Saving Illawarra duty officer Anthony Turner said there'd been 281 rescues since October, although this was less than the 2017/18 season when there were 427 rescues, and five deaths.
"It has been a better season due to a whole range of factors," Mr Turner said. "Firstly the surf has been fairly small this summer - virtually flat to one foot on a lot of the peak days.
"Plus our members have been very proactive at the 17 surf clubs along the coast - and we've saturated known black spots with support operations crews on jet skis.
"There's also a lot more education out there, such as the BeachSafe app which tells the public where the patrolled beaches are, and what the surf conditions are like, so they can plan ahead."
With the red and yellow flags coming down across the state for the final time on Sunday, Mr Turner urged people to keep safe in the surf over winter.
This weekend too, with the Bureau of Meteorology warning that on Saturday there's expected to be large and powerful surf conditions, which will be hazardous for coastal activities such as rock fishing, swimming and surfing.
"So we'd urge people to stay out of the water and avoid walking near surf-exposed areas. Rock fishers are also advised to check weather and surf conditions, to fish with a friend and never turn their back on the ocean," he said.
"During the off season it's vital that people heed safety messages, look out for each other and know their limits and abilities in and out of the water."
Mr Turner praised the more than 800 Illawarra active volunteer lifesavers who have responded to a whole range of incidents this summer.
"Our volunteers have done a tremendous job in very challenging conditions - with thousands of people visiting our beaches over summer," he said.
"We've rescued people kitesurfing and paragliding; from broken down jet skis and boats. We've conducted mass rescues with multiple swimmers in the water; we've rescued divers and snorkellers in trouble and people who've drifted out to sea on inflatables devices.
"We've had 15 ambulances attend our beaches this season, and our emergency response system has been activated 20 times. We've administered first aid in 416 cases - including 245 marine stings."
Wollongong City Council lifeguards too have been kept busy on weekdays, with more than 400 rescues and over 33,000 swimmers advised to move to a safer area or back between the flags.
During the off season, council lifeguards will continue to patrol North Wollongong beach. The public can also swim at council's Continental, Corrimal and Dapto pools all year.
Council's pools at Helensburgh, Unanderra and Berkeley will be closed on Sunday until late September, with Thirroul and Port Kembla open until May 31.