Bubbles in the sea
Bubbles in the sea MelanieMaya

Spike in drownings: 'Majority of deaths could be prevented'

MORE than a third of the state's swimming-related deaths since Christmas have occurred in North Coast waters.

The death toll has hit 14 across New South Wales, with four fatalities in our region's waterways over the Christmas and new year holiday period.

Drownings on the Northern Rivers
Drownings on the Northern Rivers Graphic

Royal Life Saving Society northern NSW regional manager Jason Phillips implored the community to be "extra cautious" in the water as summer progressed.

"It's unfortunate that we have had a spike in drownings this summer and the rate is seasonally high in NSW," Mr Phillips said.

The latest NSW Ambulance figures showed the need for heightened safety in the water as crews responded to 225 drownings, near drownings and cardiac arrests in the past two months.

Mr Phillips said the majority of drowning deaths could have been prevented if people had taken responsibility for their safety in the water.

"If you are boating, swimming, kayaking or even fishing on the water's edge you do need to be responsible for your own personal safety - (and) not only your own but your friends and family as well," he said.

Emergency services have reiterated calls for people to take care on NSW waterways, whether at the beach or in lakes, estuaries, rivers or creeks.

They've reminded people to familiarise themselves with waterways before bathing, never swim alone or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


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Jumping off high platforms into water has proven dangerous and even lethal this summer, prompting Mr Phillips to encourage more adventurous swimmers to "think twice" before taking the plunge.

"Diving from a height does have its intrinsic flaws that does lead to injuries and sometimes death," he said.

Two weeks before Christmas, the Coraki community mourned for beloved local man Cameron Britt, who died after jumping into the Richmond River from the East Coraki Bridge.

Less than a month after the 22-year-old's death, a man aged in his early 50s fractured both ankles after jumping from a cliff into the water at the Bexhill Quarry on Sunday.

Mr Phillips said swimmers often didn't consider the consequences of jumping into a waterway.

He said a "combination of factors" such as water chill, submerged hazards, slippery surfaces and currents once swimmers hit the water could lead to serious injury or death.

In a statement, Richmond Local Area Command police said swimmers "should never jump into a waterway unless you are a competent swimmer, absolutely sure of the depth of the water and what is beneath the waterline".

"Most importantly do not attempt any jumps if you are impaired by alcohol, drugs or medication," police said in a statement.


The scene where a 22-year-old died after jumping from a bridge near Coraki.
The scene where a 22-year-old died after jumping from a bridge near Coraki. Claudia Jambor

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Ensuring you are fit to swim is another issue Surf Life Saving Far North Coast director Chris Samuels said people needed to consider.

Mr Samuels recommended people with health conditions that may affect their ability to swim consult their doctor first.

"The extra strain or exhaustion on your body (while in the water) may trigger something," Mr Samuels said.

However, he said the news wasn't all bad at North Coast beaches, with the majority of swimmers heeding the message to swim between the flags.

"The majority of people are starting to get the picture and swimming between the flags," he said.

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