New research has revealed how rescue attempts in Australian waters are resulting in an average of four drownings every year.
The data has prompted calls for more education about the use of flotation devices during rescues.
Almost every person (97 per cent) who attempted a rescue operation did not use a flotation device.
A total of 67 bystanders who attempted rescues between July 2004 and June 2019 had drowned in the process, according to data sourced through Surf Life Saving Australia’s Coastal Fatality Database.
This equates to just over four deaths per year, on average, which is a “significant proportion” of the annual average of five fatalities reported last year, researchers from the University of New South Wales and James Cook University wrote.
They found nearly half (49 per cent) of all fatal incidents involving an off-the-cuff rescue happened in NSW during the summer.
The most common example is a man attempting to rescue a drowning child at a NSW beach in the afternoon during the summer.
About three-quarters of the deaths happened in a regional or remote area, more than one kilometre from the nearest lifesaving service and in the afternoon when there were rip currents.
And more than 60 per cent of drownings occurred on a beach.
The majority of victims were Australian residents (88 per cent) born in Australia (68 per cent), males (81 per cent), aged between 30–44 years old (36 per cent).
Most happened to be visitors to the location (55 per cent), either family (69 per cent) or friends (15 per cent) of those that they were trying to rescue and were attempting to retrieve someone younger than 18 years old (64 per cent).
Males, parents and carers visiting beaches in regional locations during holidays should be the target of future safety intervention approaches, the researchers wrote.
The interventions should teach people about the rip current hazard and the importance of flotation devices when enacting a rescue.
“Future research should examine the psychology of bystander rescue situations and evaluate the effectiveness of different safety intervention approaches,” the researchers wrote.