Royal Life Saving Australia has warned people not to swim after drinking alcohol over the Australia Day weekend, as new figures reveal a dramatic increase in drownings this summer.
Since the start of December, Royal Life Saving Australia has recorded a total of 59 drownings, a 16 per cent increase in deaths from the same period last year.
Young men were the most at risk, with males aged 25-44 making up more than one-quarter of all drownings.
In fact, males accounted for 80 per cent of all summer drownings - a statistic that is "unfortunately bang on trend" with annual averages, where men drown at four times the rate of women, according to Royal Life Saving National Manager of Research and Policy, Amy Peden.
"Men tend to undertake riskier behaviour than women; when they're out with their mates they are not as likely to wear a lifejacket, and are more likely to drink alcohol," Ms Peden said.
Intoxication typically contributes to 30-40 per cent of annual drownings, according to previous reports by Royal Life Saving Australia. It is an issue that is particularly problematic over the summer holidays, due to the dangerous combination of public holidays and warmer weather, says Ms Peden.
"Alcohol really is an issue - from late adolescence through to the 60- and 70-year-olds," Ms Peden said. "You might panic in the water, or it might lead you to make a fairly silly decision because you're quite intoxicated.
"This summer warning is to everybody who is considering going out on the water this weekend or on Australia Day, and potentially having a few drinks - it's about doing your aquatic activity first; and if you've had a drink, don't go back in the water afterwards," she said.
Justin Scarr, CEO of Royal Life Saving Australia, urged swimmers to swim responsibly to prevent further drownings.
"Men need to stop taking unnecessary risks when swimming, fishing or boating this Australia Day and for the rest of the summer period," Mr Scarr said.
Children under five in swimming pools were the most common victims of a further 66 cases of near-drownings, where rescue and resuscitation were needed. These "non-fatal drownings" often lead to neurological problems, due to a lack of oxygen while unconscious underwater.
Mr Scarr advised supervising parents to remain vigilant during social gatherings over the long weekend and to abstain from drinking.
"Children drown quickly and silently; it is important that children are actively supervised within arms' reach at all times," he said.
Inland waterways, such as rivers and dams, claimed the most lives, followed by beaches and harbour locations.
"Our rivers continue to claim too many lives in preventable tragedies. It's important people respect the river and follow four simple safety tips: wear a lifejacket, avoid alcohol around water, never swim alone and learn how to save a life," Mr Scarr said.
Royal Life Saving encouraged swimmers to observe warning signs before swimming at any unfamiliar water locations. They reminded swimmers to swim at patrolled beaches between the red and yellow flags.
For more information on water safety, go to royallifesaving.com.au.
By the numbers
59 drownings have occurred between December 1, 2015, and January 18, 2016, compared with 51 in the same period last year.
10 of these occurred on public holidays.
Men aged 25-34 accounted for 27% of all drownings.
25-54 year-olds collectively accounted for nearly half of all deaths.
34% of drownings were in inland waterways, and 31% at the beach.
Swimming pools were the fourth biggest killer, accounting for 7 deaths out of 59.
A further 66 cases of "near-drownings" occurred, where rescue and resuscitation were needed. Children in home swimming pools were most at risk of this, with 14 cases under the age of ten.
Sarah Muller, SMH, 22nd January, 2016