New campaign targets Hawkesbury River users

Locals cool off in the Hawkesbury River at Windsor. Picture: Geoff Jones.
Locals cool off in the Hawkesbury River at Windsor. Picture: Geoff Jones.

Of the 22 lives lost in the Hawkesbury River since 2002, the majority were men under the influence of alcohol.

Royal Life Saving has just launched their Respect the River campaign and has placed the Hawkesbury River as the second deadliest river system for drowning deaths across NSW and the fourth across the country.

Equally as astonishing was fact that 66 per cent of all deaths on the Hawkesbury River in that period involved alcohol, and 77 per cent of those had a blood alcohol reading of above 0.05 at the time of death.

Nationally, rivers, creeks and streams are the leading location for drowning in Australia, with many people underestimating the dangers.

The Murray River recorded the highest amount of deaths in the past 15 years in NSW with 47, with the Hawkesbury falling in second place. The Nepean River recorded 13 and Lake Macquarie 10.

The data has also revealed that the majority of the recorded drownings on the Hawkesbury River were man aged 18-34, who lived locally (within a 100km radius), and were a result of swimming, boating and falls.

National manager for aquatic risk management for Royal Life Saving, Craig Roberts, said the Respect the River campaign was aimed at raising awareness of these startling statistics in a hope to shift the behaviours of those using inland waterways.

“Dangers surrounding inland waterways have never been highlighted and given enough public awareness,” Mr Roberts said.

“With rivers and creeks people may become complacent by the still nature of the water on the surface. Underneath there can be murky water, snags, fast moving currents, and these waterways are not patrolled by lifeguards.

“For a long time inland waterways have gone under the radar, but they account for the largest rate of drowning deaths.”

Mr Roberts said they believe they can reverse the statistics if everyone who uses the river makes wiser choices before swimming or boating.

“We will often see children wearing life jackets while boating, but not the parents or adults.

“We see that in a lot of the recorded deaths the person has consumed alcohol.

“We hope to show people that by shifting their behaviours around inland waterways slightly, it can have have a huge impact on these statistics.”

Australian rivers continue to be the leading location for fatal drowning with Royal Life Saving research revealing that 1,113 people have drowned in Australia rivers, creeks and streams since July 1, 2002.

The newly released Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 shows that, in the last year alone, 68 people lost their lives in rivers around the country, making them the leading location for drowning.

Men are at most risk, drowning at a rate that is four times that of women (81 per cent of all drowning deaths in rivers). Alarmingly, of the men who drowned, more than half (51 per cent) had a contributory level of drugs or alcohol in their system.

In New South Wales, 402 people have drowned in rivers, creeks and streams between July 1, 2002 and June 30, 2016, 77 per cent were male. The leading age group was 35 to 44 year olds accounting for 15 per cent of all river drowning deaths in NSW.

Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, with the support of the Federal Government, is rolling out the Respect the River campaign in every state and territory with a range of local educational programs, events and activities supported by a series of national community service announcements and wide ranging social media activities.

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