Increase in drownings sparks safety warning

Warrnambool Surf Life Saving Club club captain David Owen has warned people to stay safe around water after an increase in drownings across the state. Picture: Amy Paton

Warrnambool Surf Life Saving Club club captain David Owen has warned people to stay safe around water after an increase in drownings across the state. Picture: Amy Paton

An experienced surf life saver has warned people to look after themselves around water after a report revealed 43 people drowned in Victoria in a 12-month period.

The figure, which is from the period between July 1 2015 and June 30 2016, represented an increase of 10 per cent on the 10-year average for the state.

David Owen, the club captain at Warrnambool Surf Life Saving Club, said the data in the Royal Life Saving National Report 2016 concerned him.

“I’m disturbed that there has been an increase in drownings across the board,” Mr Owen said.

He urged people to be safe around water by taking action such as seeking advice when preparing to enter an unknown river or ocean, staying within the flags, looking out for friends, going out in groups, wearing life jackets and ringing local surf clubs regarding any rips, dangers or changes.

Mr Owen, who has been involved in life saving for 16 years, said encouraging holidaymakers and tourists to swim between the flags during summer was important.

“We will try our best to have eyes on our local community, of course, and tourists and their families, but we can’t be everywhere,” he said.

Mr Owen said past drownings in the area over the years showed that conditions could change quickly and take people by surprise.

“The ocean may look benign, but if you’ve got king tides or whatever else it only takes one or two big waves or a rip to sweep you out to sea,” he said. “Make sure someone is looking out for you.”

He urged parents of young children to keep a close watch on them near water.

Mr Owen also noted that 83 per cent of the 280 people who drowned across Australia were male. “Males are risk-takers. They have to look out for each other and make sure they go out with a friend,” he said.

Mr Owen said patrols begin in the last week of November and finish at Easter time.

Key facts from the report:

  • There were 280 drowning deaths across the country in 2015/16 compared to 267 deaths in 2014/15 – an increase of five per cent.
  • The highest number of deaths (19 per cent) occurred in people aged 65-74.
  • More than a quarter of people (26 per cent) drowned in ocean and harbour locations.
  • Overseas tourists made up 25 of those who drowned.
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