A MAN whose five-year-old son was thrown into Western Port when their boat capsized in 2017 has joined Life Saving Victoria to remind boaters to wear lifejackets.
Stranded in open water for more than one hour, Nathan Hardinge, his son Darcy and his then-28-year-old nephew Matthew Stringer, managed to stay afloat thanks to their lifejackets, which enable them to raise the alarm for help by deploying a radio beacon and lighting a flare.
The trio, from The Basin, had been gummy-shark fishing around 11.15pm when their 5.5 metre boat struck a sandbar on their way back to Stony Point and partially sank.
“A lifejacket is the single most important piece of safety equipment on a recreational vessel, and wearing one while boating isn’t just recommended, it’s legislated,” Hardinge said.
“It’s a chilling thought, but if we didn’t have lifejackets on, we wouldn’t be here today. There’s no reason not to wear a lifejacket or have a way to call for help. If you have to learn that the hard way, chances are it will be too late.”
Life Saving Victoria has just released the 2021–22 drowning report, detailing the second consecutive year of a high number of drownings in Victorian waters.
There were 53 drownings between 1 July 2021 and 30 June 2022, 10 more than the decade’s average. A further 111 people survived non-fatal incidents which were attended by paramedics.
The report found that people were not wearing lifejackets in 55 per cent of boating-related drownings during the past decade, and that they were worn incorrectly in a further 23 per cent of deaths.
Inland waterways were once again named the most dangerous aquatic environments in Victoria, with 40 per cent of all drownings occurring in rivers, creeks, streams, or lakes – 48 per cent more than the 10-year average – while drownings that occurred while boating or fishing at those locations increased by 50 per cent.
The number of drownings involving people aged 65 and older doubled when compared to the 10-year average, with males aged 65 and older making up almost one third of all drownings reported in Victoria this year.
There has also been a steady increase in the number of females drowning, with the drowning rate for females now 19 per cent higher than the past decade’s average. The increase also included children aged four years and younger, where the drowning rate of girls was double the 10-year average – the largest increase seen across all groups this year.
LSV’s manager research and evaluation Dr Hannah Calverley said that despite slightly fewer fatalities than last year’s record 61, the reality was that 53 people drowned this year and “that’s 53 too many”.
“This is the second consecutive year that the Victorian drowning toll has bucked what had otherwise been a downward trend. We’re urging Victorians to be vigilant around water to help put an end to drownings and prevent further tragedy.”
Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp said Victoria had grappled with rising drowning tolls in recent years, as evidenced within the report.
“Safety must be the number one priority for people when they’re out enjoying our waterways,” he said.
“Safety is a shared responsibility and people must understand their risks when they’re in and around water.”
Safe Transport Victoria manager recreational boating safety Gareth Johnson. Said that included ensuring they’re wearing the correct, properly fitted, and well-maintained lifejacket for their chosen activity.
“There’s a bit of a misconception that lifejackets get in the way, but that simply isn’t the case; there’s a lifejacket for every occasion and modern styles are comfortable and easy to wear,” he said.