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Older swimmers, tourists warned of peak season danger

Penrith Beach tragedy

A spate of drownings at Australian waterways has prompted a warning from lifesavers about the deadliest time of year.

More Australians lose their lives to drowning between Christmas and New Year than any other period and 2023 is shaping as no different.

Ten people drowned in the three days between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day alone, all in NSW and Queensland.

The deaths include a 19-year-old man swept out to sea in a rip while rescuing a family member at Congo Beach on the NSW far south coast.

A man in his 30s also drowned when he reportedly fell from a paddleboard and failed to resurface at Sydney’s newly opened Penrith Beach on Boxing Day.

Two men died in separate incidents on NSW Central Coast beaches on Christmas Day.

A total of 22 people have drowned since the start of December, compared to 19 by the same date last year and a five-year average of 25.

Floodwaters have also claimed several lives in Queensland, including that of a nine-year-old girl whose body was recovered on Tuesday.

Royal Life Saving chief executive Justin Scarr said for many people the summer holidays is the only time they find themselves in the water.

“The underlying issue here is that perhaps Australians aren’t as strong swimmers as we believe we are,” he said.

“There are many people across the holiday period that will wade into the water, splash about, but they in fact won’t swim.

“When they find themselves in deep water that over-estimation of their ability is what causes significant problems.”

Another major risk factor is the millions of Australians heading to unfamiliar waterways at holiday destinations in regional areas.

While the number of drownings among young and primary-aged children has reduced in the past decades, one demographic has seen an increase.

“Where we’re struggling to address drowning is in adults over the age of 45,” Scarr said.

“It’s a combination of older people swimming later in life and other medical conditions, combined with strenuous activity like swimming increasing drowning risk.”

Scarr urged people to be aware of the risks inherent in any kind of water activity or natural disaster.

“In the last couple of days we’ve seen some absolutely tragic drowning events due to flooding and also on beaches and inland waterways,” Scarr said.

“With more forecast hot weather and the potential for more storms it really is a concerning period.”

-AAP

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