An investigation of lifejacket use in four popular coastal activities

Dr Jaz Lawes1, Shane Daw1

1Surf Life Saving Australia, Sydney, New South Wales


The Australian coast provides many opportunities to explore our environment, with coastal locations identified as the most attractive destinations. Tragically, being in and around water can increase drowning risks. Correct and appropriate lifejacket use can significantly improve the outcome of coastal incidents, especially with respect to survival. 2019-20 recorded an increase in fatalities in boating, PWC and rock fishing activities, which all strongly recommend lifejacket use. Boating, PWC, rock fishing and watercraft are recreational activities for which lifejacket use is recommended and here we explore associated behaviours, perceptions and fatalities from data collected in SLSA’s national coastal safety survey (NCSS) and fatality database. Results showed that most boaters and PWC users own a lifejacket and a significant proportion always wear it. While not all activity participants always wear their lifejacket, this number appears to be increasing, except for PWC users. Frequent watercraft and rock fishers are more safety-conscious with much higher proportions wearing lifejackets, highlighting occasional users as a high-risk user group. The majority of fatal rock fishing (80%) and watercraft (87%) incidents were not wearing a lifejacket, while half of all PWC-related deaths (50%) were. This suggests that lifejackets may have been incorrectly fitted, sized or poorly maintained, but could also indicate the influence of other factors such as alcohol or drugs, or other dangerous behaviours e.g. craft operation at high speeds. These results emphasise the importance of wearing lifejackets while participating in these activities and confirm the need for further research into this focus area.


Shane Daw is the General Manager – Coastal Safety at Surf Life Saving Australia and is responsible for developing and delivering national coastal safety strategic direction across all surf lifesaving activities. He manages coastal safety programs, lifesaving operations, research and emergency services.
Shane has over 25 years’ experience within surf lifesaving across research, operations, coastal risk management and strategy. His involvement varies acting as a key expert at coronial cases through to extensive experiences as a rescue practitioner, including 28 years in helicopter operations.
He has been involved in development programs and initiatives in Bali and Fiji all centred on drowning prevention including the development of programs, water safety plans and committees to address these issues and presented at local and international forums.