By the numbers
On Jan 17, 2024

Boat rescues up 18 per cent as more people flock to waterways

Marine Rescue NSW has completed its busiest year on record with 4,786 search and rescue missions across the state in 2023, as favourable weather lures boaters onto waterways.

All six regions with Marine Rescue NSW units had a record number of rescues in 2023, including the Northern Rivers, Mid North Coast, Hunter/Central Coast, Greater Sydney, Illawarra and Monaro.

Surpassing last year’s record figure, the volunteer water rescue organisation safely returned 10,645 people to shore in an 18 per cent increase in rescue missions across the state’s coastal and inland waterways.

Lake Macquarie was the busiest area for rescue missions across NSW, while a quarter of the Botany Port Hacking unit’s 400 missions were emergency responses.

The Botany Port Hacking unit covers a challenging area including Botany Bay, Georges River, Port Hacking and 30 nautical miles offshore where a large volume of traffic and variable conditions can lead to boaters and paddlers needing assistance.

In its first Budget, the Minns Labor Government made a record $73 million commitment to support the vital work of Marine Rescue NSW and its 3,300 volunteers.

The significant four-year investment will bolster Marine Rescue NSW’s fleet, including new multi-purpose and rescue vessels and the refurbishment of other rescue vessels, as well as fund new bases at Stockton and Middle Harbour. 

More than 80,000 trips were logged with Marine Rescue NSW in 2023, almost 16,500 more than the previous year.

Marine Rescue NSW radio operators had a busy 2023, managing 258,742 radio calls – or a call every two minutes – with a large number managed by the 24/7 Marine Rescue NSW State Communications Centre at Belrose.

More than half the incidents in 2023 could potentially have been avoided with better boat maintenance, with 57 per cent of calls for mechanical, battery or fuel issues.

Boat users are urged to follow these steps to stay safe this boating season:

  • Log On and Off with Marine Rescue via VHF Channel 16 or use the free Marine Rescue NSW app available for iOS and Android devices.
  • Make sure everyone on board is wearing a lifejacket.
  • Make sure your vessel’s engine and battery are working.
  • Make sure you have enough fuel and some in reserve.
  • Always check conditions and safety equipment.

Minister for Emergency Services Jihad Dib said:

“The dedicated volunteers across the 46 Marine Rescue units answer calls night and day to keep boaters safe on our waterways, and I commend them on everything they have done over the busiest year for Marine Rescue yet.”

“After boating seasons have been impacted by wet weather brought on by La Nina, as well as Covid lockdowns, more people are now taking the opportunity to get out on our beautiful waterways and enjoy the warmer weather.”

“I encourage people to enjoy our coastline and inland waterways safely, and by logging on and off with Marine Rescue our volunteers will be in a position to respond if things don’t go to plan.”

“It is pleasing to see that over the past 12 months there has been an increase of 16,500 boaters using Marine Rescue’s free Log On service with more than 80,000 trips logged last year.”

Marine Rescue NSW Deputy Commissioner Darren Schott said:

“Almost a third of incidents last year were emergencies such as capsized boats, missing people, groundings and fires on vessels.”

“Response times for these incidents is reduced dramatically if a boater is logged on with Marine Rescue NSW.”

“We ask all boaters to ensure that they check their vessel’s engine and battery every time they plan to head out on the water.”

“Mechanical and fuel issues can quickly become life-threatening emergencies on the water, so make sure you have enough fuel and some in reserve.”

Breakdown of rescues across regions:

  • Northern Rivers – 353 search and rescue missions including 213 emergency responses with 733 people safely returned to shore. Locations of highest demand were Point Danger, Ballina and Iluka Yamba.
  • Mid North Coast – 390 search and rescue missions including 213 emergency responses with 907 people safely returned to shore. Locations of highest demand were Forster/Tuncurry, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour.
  • Hunter/Central Coast – 1,511 search and rescue missions including 341 emergency responses with 3,079 people safely returned to shore. Locations of highest demand were Lake Macquarie, Port Stephens and the Central Coast.
  • Greater Sydney – 1,774 search and rescue missions including 285 emergency responses with 4,262 people safely returned to shore (across all seven Greater Sydney units). Locations of highest demand were Sydney (State Communications Centre), Botany Port Hacking and Port Jackson.
  • Illawarra – 481 search and rescue missions including 245 emergency responses with 1,091 people safely returned to shore. Locations of highest demand were Port Kembla, Jervis Bay and Shoalhaven.
  • Monaro – 277 search and rescue missions including 180 emergency responses with 566 people safely returned to shore. Locations of highest demand were Batemans Bay, Eden and Narooma.

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