Over the past 25 days, 22 people have drowned at NSW beaches, waterways and pools, with authorities declaring the state's heart "broken" over the toll.
In what lifesavers have dubbed as "unprecedented," 17 of the drowning deaths have come since Christmas day.
"There's definitely a spike in inland and other waterway drownings this season," Surf Life Saving NSW spokeswoman Donna Wishart told The Huffington Post Australia.
"That's a big concern and we haven't seen that in a couple of years."
Since December 10, at least 22 people have drowned in NSW. A four-year-old boy and a 23-month-old boy were also taken to hospital after near drownings at Fairfield on December 17 and Wisemans Ferry on December 31, respectively.
Just a handful of the drownings have been at beaches, with the majority coming from incidents at rivers, lakes and backyard pools. It has prompted Royal Life Saving to issue an urgent warning to swimmers to be safer around such bodies of water, and to homeowners to tighten up pool security and supervision of children.
"People are familiar with swimming at the pool or beach, with lifeguards and flags, but at rivers we don't have those things," Kimberly Noffs, of Royal Life Saving, told HuffPost Australia.
"The environment can change quickly. One day you're swimming in this calm river, the next day it's a strong current you can't see, or there's branches or other objects under the water. People go on holiday to different areas they're not familiar with. We encourage everyone to not swim alone."
At least five NSW children under the age of five have drowned in backyard pools since December 10. RLS statistics showed only six drownings of under fives in the whole of the 2015-16 financial year, and just two in backyard pools. Speaking to Fairfax Media, Michael Ilansky of the RLS said the numbers were "unprecedented".
"It's absolutely devastating to think that this Christmas period we've had more children drown in backyard pools than we've had in the last 12 months in NSW," he told Fairfax.
Since December 10, at least 22 people have died in NSW drowning accidents, including:
- A 29-year-old rock fisherman at Malabar on December 10;
- A one-year-old girl in a backyard pool at Raby, on December 11;
- A 22-year-old man in a river at Coraki on December 11;
- A 14-month-old girl in a backyard pool at Port Stephens on December 18;
- A 16-year-old boy in a river at Dubbo, on December 19;
- A twin girl and boy, aged 23 months, who were found in a backyard pool at Kellyville Ridge on December 21, and died on December 26 and 29 respectively;
- A man in a lagoon at the Royal National Park, on December 25;
- A man in his 60s at a beach at Wooli, on December 26;
- A 27-year-old man in a river at Kangaroo Valley, on December 26
- A 56-year-old man at a beach at Kioloa, on December 26;
- A 25-year-old man in the Nepean River, western Sydney, on December 26;
- A man in swimming baths at The Entrance, on December 27;
- A 14-year-old boy at Maroubra beach, on December 27;
- A 42-year-old man at a river at Wagga Wagga, on December 28;
- A 64-year-old man at a Byron Bay beach, on December 29;
- A 27-year-old man at inland river pools at Tahmoor, on December 30;
- A 46-year-old man in a lake at Yamba, on December 30;
- A man at a Brighton Le Sands beach, on December 30;
- A two-year-old girl at in a backyard pool at Macquarie Fields, on January 1;
- A 44-year-old man at Lake Eucumbene, on January 1;
- An 83-year-old man at a backyard pool in Belrose, on January 2
Wishart, of Surf Life Saving, said the number of beach drownings was about on par with previous years, but said hot weather over Christmas and New Year's could be to blame for the spike in other drownings.
"Usually the drownings are coastal, we usually bear the brunt, but this year inland and pool waterways have been added to the mix," she said.
"Perhaps due to the fact it's been so warm. This time last year was quite miserable and cold, and people were not in the water to the same extent."
Last year 44 people who lost their lives to drowning had alcohol in their system. Avoid alcohol when in and on the water these holidays. pic.twitter.com/rG5ED5StFl— Royal Life Saving (@RoyalLifeSaving) December 28, 2016
NSW emergency services minister David Elliott said "the state's heart has broken" by the number of deaths.
"Water safety can't be regulated. Water safety is something that people need to take responsibility for," he said.
"If you're going to take a risk, this is tragedy waiting to happen."
Elliott called for swimmers to take greater care in the water.
"We will work with water safety programs and we will work with those who are responsible in the emergency services fraternity, but the appeal from Government today is to make sure that you take ownership of your own safety," he said.
"If you don't know that your fence is childproof, fix it. If you don't know that a river is going to be running a current underneath it, don't go into it. If you don't know that a surf is safe, don't enter the surf. The appeal today is to make sure that you take responsibility for your own safety and the safety of your friends. We also remind people that when we take a risk, we are putting the lives of emergency services workers at risk as well and we saw that only recently."
Noffs urged all citizens to learn first aid and CPR in case of emergency, and gave some basic water tips.
"Do not mix alcohol with water, wear lifejackets, supervise children. Our message is that everyone can be a lifesaver. At a river or lake, we don't have lifeguards, but we can have people out there able to save a life," she said.
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