Life Saving Victoria pushes for prolonged patrols after spike in demand

“Certainly from patrolled locations we know that increase was significant in not only rescue numbers but preventative measures and education,” Mr Krige said.

He confirmed the service was now in discussions with the state government about permanently increasing its patrol capacity.

The 2020-21 surf life saving season

  • 3.8 million beachgoers
  • 51 deaths
  • 602 rescues
  • 15 helicopter winches
  • 79 jet ski rescues
  • 158 major first-aid incidents
  • 30 percent more patrols

“We can always do more. And a lot of that doing more is contingent on funding.”

A state government spokeswoman said it had been a difficult summer on Victorian waterways.

“With more Australians looking to travel domestically in lieu of international travel, we recognize the potential increase in attendance across Victorian waterways in upcoming warmer months,” she said.

“We’ll continue to work with Life Saving Victoria to ensure it has the funding and resources it needs to continue its important work.”

The number of jet ski rescues increased markedly in the recent summer. Credit:Justin McManus

Mr Krige said beachgoers had spread out and looked for more isolated locations after emerging from lockdown, posing a greater challenge for lifeguards.

He said this may have come about because tourism authorities had urged holidaymakers to travel further afield to explore their own state.

But Mr Krige also said Melburnians’ desire to hit the coast after lockdown and improvements to wetsuit quality meant people were swimming for longer periods.

There were 158 major first-aid incidents during the patrol season, compared to 10 for the previous year.

However, Mr Krige said there were no deaths between the flags this summer despite the significant increase in swimmers taking to the water.

From December 1, 2020 to February 28, there were 20 reported drownings. Twelve occurred on the coast, four at inland waterways and four at homes.

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On the Bass Coast, which includes Phillip Island and Inverloch, the number of rescues almost doubled from 55 in the 2019-20 season to 106 for 2020-21.

In the Gippsland region there were 68 rescues compared to 18 the year before. The coastal stretch takes in Venus Bay where a woman drowned in January after trying to help a teenager who was struggling in the water.

However, there was a significant decline in rescues on the Mornington Peninsula and a slight drop on the Surf Coast.

Bass Coast chief executive Ali Wastie said it was great to see people enjoying the region’s beaches but warned some of the beaches were extremely dangerous.

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The area includes notorious beaches that have claimed numerous lives in recent years, including Cape Woolamai and Kilcunda.

Ms Wastie said the council, which has a funding agreement with Life Saving Victoria, backed the call for more patrols on the beaches. But she said education was also required so that people understood the importance of swimming between the flags.

“It starts with families. It starts in the home,” she said.

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