Half of Hawkesbury River users drink alcohol while there says study

Research by the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia found 51 per cent of Hawkesbury River users admitted consuming alcohol while at the river. Picture: Geoff Jones
Research by the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia found 51 per cent of Hawkesbury River users admitted consuming alcohol while at the river. Picture: Geoff Jones

ABOUT half the people who use the Hawkesbury River drink alcohol while there, according to research conducted for a drowning prevention campaign.

The Royal Life Saving Society of Australia (RLLSA) surveyed and breathalysed 112 people at the Hawkesbury River at Windsor as part of a study, which they hope will help target drowning prevention messages to those most at risk.

The survey found that 51 per cent of people at the river admitted to sometimes or always drinking alcohol while at the river, while one per cent of those breathalysed were above the legal driving limit of 0.05 blood alcohol content (BAC).

That statistic was concerning, given many drowning deaths in river systems are alcohol related according to the RLSSA, which is currently running its Don’t Let Your Mates Drink and Drown as well as its Respect the Water campaigns.

The research was led by the RLSSA’s Amy Peden, who is the national manager of research and and a PhD candidate at JCU.

Ms Peden said the Hawkesbury site, one of four where surveys were conducted, had the highest response for people who drank while at the river, but the lowest of people above the legal limit.

She said her research found that there was no one demographic that was more likely to drink while at the river.

What it did uncover, though, was that regular river users, who also spent a large amount of time there, were far more likely to have a drink.

“People who visited the river in the afternoon with their friends on warmer days and spend a longer time in the river are more likely to drink,” she said.

“Not only are they in the water longer but they are also more likely to be over 0.05 and that is probably the real at risk group.

“They potentially underestimate the risk because they spend a lot of time in the environment.”

Ms Peden said people drinking and swimming was alarming, given that the national average for BAC in people who had drowned in rivers was 0.2, which is four times the legal limit.

She said that with the information the organisation now had, it was better armed with knowledge to target river users across Australia, in the hopes of reducing the number of drownings that occur.

“Alcohol is known to increase your risk of drowning and that’s especially true at rivers around the country. The average BAC of an adult who has been drinking and unintentionally drowned in an Australian river is 0.20, or four times the legal limit. This research will help us to target drowning prevention strategies to those most at risk,” said Ms Peden.

“We now have a better understanding of the type of person who drinks alcohol at the river. That person visits the river in the afternoon, with friends and on warm days. They are more likely to be frequent river users who spend longer in the water than those who weren’t drinking.”