By Emma Prior
Whether you are a local who spends much of your free time around the Murray River or a tourist who is looking to spend time by the river on a hot summer’s day, the changing nature of the water means you never know what may be below the surface.
The Royal Life Saving Society has released alarming statistics, concerning drownings in the Murray River over the last 15 years in time for a summer warning.
Royal Life Saving research reported 68 people have drowned in the Murray River alone in the last 15 years with the waterway identified as the number 1 river blackspot in Australia.
Senior Project Officer of Research and Policy at Royal Life Saving Society Australia Stacey Pidgeon said the statistics showed one third of drowning deaths occurred among those aged between the ages 35 and 55 (30 percent), followed closely by the 18 to 24 and 55 to 64 age groups (both almost 30 percent) and most (93 percent) drowning deaths were men.
Not only are men at a higher risk, they are drowning at a rate of 4 times that of women.
The most surprising factor of the whole Respect the River campaign is the statistic that nearly 74% of drowning deaths in rivers were locals who drowned within 100km of their place of residence.
“We are pushing the fact of not knowing what is under the water as 74% of the people who drowned were local to the area so they were not paying attention when conditions were changing,” Ms Pidgeon said.
“People are not always aware of the cold waters of the river and are therefore not prepared. They are also not always aware of the snags, rocks and trees that lie underneath and the strong current the river has.
“The waterways might look nice and beautiful and flat but they are very much like surf beaches, those conditions can change very rapidly.
“Make sure you are well aware of the conditions even if you go to that area all the time. Be aware of water conditions, weather conditions and make sure you are thinking about safety equipment and being prepared if you are going to go out on the water.”
Specifically in relation to the Murray River, most boating related deaths occurred in small powered boats of less than five metres, houseboats and on paddle craft (canoes and kayaks).
Research revealed between July 1 2002 and June 30 2017, more than 20 drowning deaths in the Murray River happened while people were boating.
A recent report by the Royal Life Saving Society on boating and water craft drowning deaths found that an astonishing 92% of those people who drowned were not wearing life jackets.
Ms Pidgeon reiterated the biggest point of the campaign was safety and people thinking ahead before involving themselves with the river.
Although no children under the age of 17 have drowned in the Murray River in the last 15 years she advised parents or adults to be actively watching kids around water especially the Murray River as it is the country’s number 1 river blackspot.
“Especially going into summer and it not being far until the Christmas holidays, lots more families will be going out so we just want them to be vigilant,” she said.
With males being the leaders of river drowning deaths in the nation and alcohol being a leading contributor to that, river users are advised to be weary of their alcohol intake before hitting the water.
“We all love the water and spending time around it as it is something we all enjoy during summer, and places like Yarrawonga with the Murray River attract many tourists who want to swim in the river,” Ms Pidgeon said.
“We want people to enjoy the water but be safe in doing so.”
“We’re really just trying to stick to the four key messages and make it as simple as possible.”
The Royal Life Saving Respect the River campaign focuses on four simple steps that are key to reduce the risk or avoid drownings this summer;
Wear a life jacket
Avoid alcohol and drugs around water
Never go alone/ let somebody know where you are
Learn how to save a life
For more information and water safety tips go to www.royallifesaving.com.au and follow the links to the Respect the River campaign and keep an eye out on social media for information and updates from the campaign.