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Migrants and tourists account for a third of drownings in Australia: lifesavers want better education

Lifesavers reissue the warning to swim between the flags after several drowning deaths in Australia Source: Flickr

There have been almost 30 drowning deaths in Australia so far this summer, with the majority occurring on beaches. It's prompted urgent calls for better - and broader - water safety education.

Royal Life Saving's Summer Drowning Toll reported 28 drownings in December.

Amy Peden is the organisation's national research manager. She says water risk factors increase during summer.

"Unfortunately we always do see a large number of drowning deaths in summer, particularly between Christmas and New Year, because people are on leave, kids are on school holidays, the weather is good, the days are longer, there is the involvement of drugs and alcohol sometimes at summer parties."

The report comes during a push for more water safety programs targeted at people not born in Australia.

There are currently no specific initiatives aimed at adult migrants or tourists.

Ms Peden says her organisation is looking to change that.

"We do know that people born overseas make up 30-40 per cent of our drowning statistics every year, so it's obviously a cohort we need to do more education with. We're obviously very encouraging of councils and universities that want to do water safety for international students and migrants."

Australia's lifesaving organisation has reissued warnings to swim 'between the flags' - to swim in patrolled sections of beaches - after two men drowned at the same Victorian beach within a week.

The first drowned at Phillip Island's Woolamai Beach on Christmas Day, while the second died on New Year's Day

The beach was closed on Tuesday, January 2 because of dangerous conditions.

A sign informing the beach is closed at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast, Sunday, June 5, 2016.
A sign informing the beach is closed at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast, Sunday, June 5, 2016.

Life Saving Victoria general manager Paul Shannon says swimming between the flags saves lives.

"There's inherent dangers in all waterways, and this time of year when people are down the beach swimming, we want them to swim between the red and yellow flags- which is the safer place if people are entering the water. We want people to swim in those areas, not just pull up on the side of the road somewhere."

Royal Life Saving's report indicates nearly 70 per cent of drownings this summer have come in coastal locations.

But rivers are the overall leading locations for drowning, largely because they're not patrolled by lifeguards.

Mr Shannon says it's vital people understand how to get out of trouble when swimming in unpatrolled waters.

"Raise an arm and call out to seek help; float with the current, it may return you to a shallow sand bank; swim parallel to the beach, you may escape the rip current. Then reassess the situation if what you're doing isn't working, but never swim alone, and always seek help."

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull pledged three million dollars to Surf Lifesaving Australia on New Years Day.

Speaking at the announcement, he became emotional recalling the moment his father saved him from waters off Sydney's Bondi Beach.

"I remember as a kid out just off Ben Buckler here, falling off my surfer plane. I was in plenty of trouble. I can still see my father swimming through the surf, swimming through and he got me. That's what lifesavers do. That's what we have to do to look after each other here."

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