opinion

"A brief message for everyone who swims at the beach at night: please stop."

I live on the shoreline of a popular beach and for the past week, I have awoken to the roar of helicopters.

They swoop down from the cliffs, beaming lights like flash bombs into the apartments below. The blades churn as they hover over the rocks, blasting light left to right, left to right.

Locals know the sound of a helicopter at night means one of two things: somebody went for a swim and is now missing, or somebody went for a swim and is currently caught.

"Locals know the sound of a helicopter at night means one of two things." (iStock)

There have been 14 deaths in NSW since the beginning of the Christmas period, and too many of them involved beaches.

Swimming during the day already carries the danger of rips, tides and unexpected changes, but swimming at night carries those risks and more.

The lack of vision, the lack of assistance and the added emotional stress of being pulled into darkness places some truly difficult hurdles for swimmers to overcome.

Authorities have for years warned against swimming during night hours. It was only in May last year that a woman was killed by a crocodile while swimming at night in waist-deep water at Thornton Beach in Queensland.

A lone man swims during the dusk hours. (Source: iStock)
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The recent Boxing Day death of Geoffrey Blackadder, the brave 60-year-old who died saving two young girls caught in a rip at Wooli Beach, north of Coffs Harbour, happened during daylight hours. As did the tragic Christmas Day death of a 27-year-old at Wattamolla Lagoon in NSW's Royal National Park.

The news of these deaths highlight how even the perceived safety of daylight hours can still lead to tragic accidents.

Chief Inspector Shari Allison from Coffs Harbour Police told the ABC the death of Blackadder emphasised the importance of swimming at patrolled beaches.

"I think that's what [the] incident does highlight, the importance of swimming in a patrolled location," he said at the time.

Reports show that deaths by drowning have only increased. (Source: iStock)

"Had this occurred at an unpatrolled beach we could have been talking about a mass casualty event."

The use of such a term as "mass casualty" may seem extreme, but last December the The National Coastal Safety Report revealed a 24 per cent increase in the number of deaths in the twelve months leading up to June 2016, compared to the year before, the ABC reported.

Men were said to account for 90 per cent of coastal drowning deaths in the same report.

The tragedy of this recent season cannot be changed, but our understanding and treatment of the water can.

Swim at patrolled locations. Swim together. Swim during daylight hours. Swim safe.

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