Coroner calls for mandatory life jackets for rock fishermen

THE NSW Coroner's Court has called for lifejackets to be made compulsory for rock fishermen following an inquest into nine recent drownings.

Among the deaths was 62-year-old Greg Reardon, who was killed while angling off a rock wall at Turners Beach in Yamba in January last year.

There were no witnesses.

Another fisherman found his body floating in the water and his rod and reel were later discovered entangled on the rocks.

Deputy coroner Carmel Forbes said police believed Mr Reardon had tried to cast a large lure in the water, but it was caught in the rocks.

"It is presumed that he slipped and fell into a gutter of water that ran along the length of the breakwall," she said.

"The gutter has a very strong current pulling a large volume of water out to sea and would have made swimming very difficult."

Thirty-five people have died while rock fishing in NSW since 2012, with the average search operation costing the community between $450,000 and $600,000 in 2011.

"The emotional and social cost of these deaths to family, friends and the community is enormous," Ms Forbes said.

The deputy coroner said life jackets should be mandatory, and that any costs would be "far outweighed by the saving of lives and the subsequent reduction of social and financial costs associated with the loss of lives".

"There are, of course, precedents for similar mandatory measures, such as the mandatory wearing of seatbelts, bike helmets and lifejackets in certain boating situations," she said.

"All of these measures have had successful outcomes."

Ms Forbes said consideration should be given to a 12-month grace period in which coupons or gift vouchers for free or subsidised life jackets were made available.

She also called for an increased education campaign, including the use of "shock signage, indicating the number of deaths or serious injuries associated with rock fishing in a particular location."


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