A total of 519 rescues were performed across Victoria by lifesavers and lifeguards this lifesaving season, which wrapped up on Easter Monday.
With 41 more rescues than the previous season, it was an eventful summer boasting busy patrols. Lifesavers took an impressive 110,631 preventative actions – up 10,503 from last year – and attended 1,655 first aid incidents.
This season also saw an increase in the number of beachgoers, with an estimated 2,484,620 people visiting patrolled beaches, up by 264,018 compared to 2015/16.
Victorian beaches gained significant media attention this season, with a record number of shark sightings, particularly around the Surf Coast, causing more beach closures than usual.
LSV Lifesaving Operations Manager Greg Scott said that sharks were present in Victorian waters in unusually high numbers this season, with over 100 individual sharks spotted on the Victorian Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopter Service’s busiest day.
“We’ve seen a lot of Bronze Whalers along with a number White sharks, some in excess of 3 metres in length,” he said.
“A healthy waterway full of bait and school fish is one of the reasons we may have seen increased shark activity. The spring downpours wash more nutrients into the ocean, boosting fish populations, and in turn attracting sharks.
“The publicity surrounding sharks and shark sightings in Victoria this summer has served as an opportunity to remind the public that the easiest ways to be safe in the water is to seek out additional information before heading to the beach from VicEmergency, and by swimming between the red and yellow flags at a patrolled location.”
Water quality issues also made headlines, with a number of beaches in Port Phillip Bay being closed on sweltering Melbourne days due to poor water quality following summer storms.
Following Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) advice, lifesavers assisted in warning swimmers when the water quality was rated Poor and deemed unsafe for swimming. The EPA reported that there were 200 more Poor forecasts for Victorian beaches in 2016-17 than the previous season.
In 2016-17, all 28 lifesaving clubs in Port Phillip Bay displayed water quality signage. The signs informed beachgoers of water quality forecasts and other water conditions for swimming.
The Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopters assisted with a range of tasks throughout the season, including rescues, shark patrols and assisting in searches for lost swimmers and vessels.
“Victoria’s two Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopters provided vital support to lifesavers and lifeguards on the ground, patrolling on weekends and public holidays throughout the season, with increased daily patrols over the busiest period from 24 December to 26 January,” Mr Scott said.
“In addition, Victoria’s intelligence gathering helicopter – the Firebird 300 – flew alongside the Westpac Lifesaver Rescue Helicopters for the first time this summer to assist LSV crews in conducting aerial patrols.
“Usually used to assist emergency services in supplying information in fires, storms and floods, the Firebird 300 has expanded its capability to include shark spotting, undertaking several intelligence gathering flights alongside LSV in December and January.”
Sadly, 2016-17 saw a spike in fatal drownings in Victoria, with 8 more deaths compared to the average this financial year.
LSV Principal Research Associate Dr Bernadette Matthews said there have been 42 reported drowning deaths across the state since last July which is 8 more than the five year average (34) for the same time period.
“These statistics are a reminder of the inherent dangers of our beaches and all waterways, including rivers, lakes and creeks.
“It’s important to remember that drowning deaths happen all year round. Last year, 60 per cent of drowning deaths in Victoria happened outside the summer months.
“Particularly now that lifesavers have finished patrols, it is important to play it safe by the water. Be aware and prepared for the conditions, and make it your habit to check signage and the Beachsafe App before heading into the water,” Dr Matthews said.
LSV would like to thank all the dedicated lifesavers and lifeguards that have helped keep over 2 million visitors to our beaches safe this season.
Lifesaving patrols will recommence for next season from November 2017.