john mccutcheon

River risks highlighted for blokes on the booze

THE appalling record of drownings in Australia's rivers has been highlighted as a warning for vigilance and sensible behaviour during the Easter break.

Rivers are the leading location for drowning in Australia with a total of 1001 people having lost their lives in rivers over the past 13 years.

Eighty-one per cent of these were male and a disturbing 35% of all drowning deaths were known to involve alcohol.

In NSW, 359 people have drowned in rivers over the same period, with boating and watercraft incidents claiming the lives of 56 people. In the Northern Rivers the number of deaths in 45.

"We traditionally see a spike in drowning deaths on public holidays and the Easter period is no exception," said Justin Scarr, Royal Life Saving CEO.

"It's a popular time for people to camp, boat and fish at our inland waterways and our aim is to ensure people enjoy our rivers and streams safely. Remember, Respect the River."

Nationally, boating and watercraft fatalities are of particular concern to Royal Life Saving having claimed 145 lives at rivers in the past 13 years. Over one quarter (26%) of all boating victims recorded a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) reading equal to or greater than the upper legal limit (0.05mg/L).

Boat passengers are just as likely as operators to be involved in incidents such as capsizing or falling overboard as a result of drinking alcohol. Everyone aboard needs to take care.

"We are particularly concerned about safety among the boating community, with high levels of alcohol being recorded. The safest thing to do, if you're going to have a drink, is to wait until you've packed up for the day" says Royal Life Saving Society - NSW CEO David Macallister.

A survey of river users conducted by Royal Life Saving found strong support for increased breathalysing of skippers on rivers, creeks and streams, and strong support for the wearing of lifejackets when boating. Not wearing a lifejacket can have serious consequences with studies finding that wearing a lifejacket doubles a person's chance of survival once immersed in water.

"It's great to see community recognition that there may be a need for further enforcement of drink-boating legislation and such widespread support for lifejackets. With the modern innovations in lifejacket design, the wearing of lifejackets does not need to be uncomfortable. We encourage those boating and using watercraft on our inland waterways to wear them at all times when on the water," Mr Scarr said.

With rivers, creeks and streams the leading location for drowning in Australia, Royal Life Saving is also reminding the community of the importance of ensuring they 'Respect the River', a public awareness and education program supported by the Federal Government.

Members of the community who want more information on Royal Life Saving's Respect the River campaign should visit www.royallifesaving.com.au/respecttheriver



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