THREE people have drowned in the Hunter over the past year, part of a statewide trend that has seen water deaths rise by more than a fifth around NSW.
Surf Life Saving NSW released the data on Friday as the first day of summer approaches on Sunday.
The data found a 22 per cent spike in coastal drowning deaths over the 2018-2019 year, with a total of 44 people dying in NSW during the 12 months.
The NSW figures are the highest number of drownings since 2015/2016, when 56 people died in coastal areas. Three of the deaths over the past year fell within the Hunter branch. There were no drownings on the Central Coast, the data shows, while the North Coast and Far North Coast recorded seven and five respectively. Among branches beyond Sydney (15), only the South Coast (5) and Mid-North Coast (4) branches had more than the Hunter.
The time frame includes the death of a 16-year-old boy in February after he was jumped off rocks between Susan Gilmore and Bar beaches.
The Merewether High student did not resurface and could not be revived after he was pulled ashore.
"The near-record drowning toll last year has our surf lifesavers on high alert," said Surf Life Saving NSW chief executive Steven Pearce.
"Last year, almost half of the total drownings occurred during summer. At one point we were recording a drowning every two or three days."
The Surf Life Saving NSW Coastal Safety Report, which contains the data, also found that 86 per cent of coastal drowning victims were men and 18 per cent were attributed to rock fishing.
"20-24-year-olds represent the highest number of drowning deaths," the report states.
"The highest rate of drowning death is 1.3 per cent per 100,000 population for the 75-79-year-old age group."
People who drowned attempting to save someone else made up 7 per cent of those who drowned, while both scuba and snorkelling deaths increased.
The majority of deaths occurred at the beach but more than a third came after falls from rocks or cliffs. More than 40 per cent came at least five kilometres from a lifesaving service, while 7 per cent occurred offshore.
The Newcastle Herald reported in September that City of Newcastle lifeguards saved more than 100 people in significant rescues last season and completed more than 15,000 preventative measures.