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Lifesavers swimming against the tide

Date

By Christopher Knaus

Surf rescue.

Surf rescue. Photo: Fiona-Lee Quimby

South Coast volunteer lifesavers will be very short of money this season as they try to recover from one of their most devastating years on record.

The Far South Coast Branch Surf Life Saving Association has lost a sizeable chunk of its corporate sponsorship, leaving it with an income from these sources of about $1000 a year.

The branch gets $3000 through state government funding each year, supplemented by a number of one-off grants.

Far South Coast branch director Andrew Edmunds admitted cash was stretched thin, leaving little to maintain support services including jet skis, boats, call-out teams, advanced rescue equipment, radios and phones.

"It's always tight, but somehow we always pull through," Mr Edmunds said. "We rely on the goodwill of the clubs and the members. In an ideal world we'd have the funds to support the [clubs'] services so they can be out on the water longer, without worrying about the cost of running a jet ski or running a boat."

The branch's seven individual clubs, at Batemans Bay, Bermagui, Broulee, Moruya, Narooma, Pambula and Tathra, have their own funding sources.

Mr Edmunds said the lack of money was not putting any water user at greater risk. "The end state is the same, but it's just a question of how sustainable that is," he said.

"At the moment we're able to run our support services and continue to deliver service to the community, but it's just a question of how long that can be maintained."

The loss of funds comes as the far south coast branch recovers from one of the deadliest seasons on record last summer.

Eight people drowned at the region's beaches during a horror seven months – the worst death toll of any area in the state.

Far south coast beaches accounted for nearly a quarter of NSW's 33 drowning deaths.

Lifesavers were kept very busy all through the summer, making 264 rescues, 2000 preventive actions, watching over 99,000 people and spending 19,500 hours on patrol. Most of the branch's rescues occurred during the peak periods during the school holidays.

Half of the deaths involved one accident when a boat carrying a Sydney family capsized near Batemans Bay in October.

Four members members of the Sgroi family, aged between 10 and 73, drowned in waters near Yellow Rock off Batemans Bay.

But the start to this season has been far more promising.

The region is yet to record a death, although there have been a a number of lucky escapes.

Two American tourists, a father and a son, were pulled from "horrendous" waters on Broulee Beach last month.

"It's always busy from December to January, that's our peak period," Mr Edmunds said.

"Particularly that week between Christmas and New Year will be really busy, quite hectic up and down the coast," he said.

Mr Edmunds urged beach-goers to stay between the flags, and rock fishermen and boat users to wear lifejackets.

"Just make sure you don't do anything on your own. If you've got people with you they can help raise the alarm and keep you safe," he said.

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