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2021/22 drowning toll the highest in more than 25 years

2021/22 drowning toll the highest in more than 25 years
September 16, 2022

New research by leading water safety authorities Royal Life Saving Society - Australia and Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) has revealed a tragic rise in drowning deaths over the past 12 months.

The year from July 2021 to June 2022 saw 339 drowning deaths occur across Australia, the highest in a quarter of a century, prompting water safety experts to issue an urgent plea to make safety a focus this summer.

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2022 found that there were 339 drowning deaths over the past 12 months - 15% higher than last year (295), and the highest reported figure since 1996.

Sadly, 39 deaths were flood related.

The Surf Life Saving National Coastal Safety Report 2022 found that 141 of those drowning deaths occurred along the coast, the highest number recorded by SLSA since 2004, and sadly a 16 % increase on the 10-year average.

Both organisations are concerned about the impact of flooding, people swimming at unpatrolled locations, and reported increases in drowning among older adults and in school aged children.

Disturbing trends revealed in the reports include:

  • More than 28% of all drowning 94 drowning deaths were in people over the age of 65, an increase of 34% increase on last year.
  • 15 drowning deaths occurred in children aged five to 14 years, a 7% increase on last year, and perhaps a reflection of children missing out on swimming lesson during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • SLSA reports that 49% of the coastal drowning deaths occurred more than 5km from a surf lifesaving service, a factor that may have resulted from people seeking out more secluded swimming spots.
  • Men account for 83% of all drowning. Alcohol and drugs, risk taking behaviour and men over-estimating their swimming ability are all considered key factors.
  • 39 drowning deaths were flood related, majority in the eastern states (NSW, Queensland, Victoria).

Both organisations find that the figures highlight ongoing impacts of COVID-19 on drowning risk, including Australians being more likely to visit unfamiliar, unpatrolled water locations, children lacking swimming skills necessary to enjoy the water safely due to pandemic induced lesson cancellations.

With the support of the Australian Government, Surf Life Saving and Royal Life Saving are looking at strategies ahead of the warmer months, including bringing forward water safety campaigns, delivering lifesaving services and working with governments, councils and groups across the country.

Advising that the Australian Government is determined to support organisations like Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving to raise water safety awareness, Federal Minister for Aged Care and Sport, Anika Wells commented “the increased drowning of older people is particularly distressing. Enjoying a swim has so many benefits for people of all ages. Some simple precautions, like a medical check-up to ensure you are swim fit, or going to the local swimming pool to refresh your skills is a great idea ahead of summer.

“As we prepare for summer, water safety should be top of mind. I urge all Australians to supervise children at all times around water, learn swimming, water safety and lifesaving skills, wear a lifejacket when boating, rock fishing and on watercraft and to swim at a patrolled beach between the red and yellow flags.”

Royal Life Saving Chief Executive, Justin Scarr noted “Royal Life Saving is deeply saddened by another tragic increase in drowning, with pandemic and the wet, hot weather combining to create a terrible year for drowning on waterways. This is the worst year for drowning since 1996.

“Increased drowning deaths in school aged children is tragic and may be a sign of generational impacts of lessons missed due to COVID-19. Swimming and water safety lessons are critical to child safety.

“Drowning deaths in older people, aged over 65 years, now represents 26% of all fatal drowning. We urge adults of all ages to consider the impacts of medical conditions, alcohol, and swimming ability has on their water safety.”

Surf Life Saving Australia Chief Executive, Adam Weir stated “during the 12-month period, we have sadly seen a continuation from the tragedies of the previous year which should be a concern to all.

“This year has been the worst we have experienced since collecting coastal drowning information during the past 18 years.”

Click here to view the Royal Life Saving Society - Australia National Drowning Report 2022.

Click here to view the Surf Life Saving National Coastal Safety Report 2022.

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9th September 2022 - APOLA President Bruce Hopkins gains support for adoption of Float to Survive initiative as a national anti-drowning prevention message

1st September 2022 - Swimming Australia highlights Sydney’s successful ‘Festival of Swimming’

22nd August 2022 - Federal Sport Minister Anika Wells appointed to Brisbane 2032 Board

16th August 2022 - Surf Life Saving Australia research explores impacts of alcohol and drug intoxication on coastal deaths

9th August 2022 - Countdown to two aquatic industry events named SwimCon

5th August 2022 - Swim It Forward 2022 campaign launched by Swim Australia ahead of peak drowning season

2nd August 2022 - Laurie Lawrence instructs Western Australia’s swimming instructors

1st August 2022 - Swim Schools encouraged to participate in Learn2Swim Week

25th July 2022 - Life Saving Victoria raises awareness on this World Drowning Prevention Day

22nd July 2022 - AUSTSWIM to mark World Drowning Prevention Day with discounted courses for new teachers

22nd July 2022 - Key Royal Life Saving research shows drowning risk of dams, ponds and irrigation channels

13th July 2022 - Minister Anika Wells: ‘sport will help achieve many objectives of the Australian Government’

7th June 2022 - Counting down to World Drowning Prevention Day 2022

22nd April 2022 - Royal Life Saving contributes to new research highlighting global drowning prevention

25th March 2022 - Royal Life Saving promotes round table event to address drowning prevention measures in North Queensland

27th January 2022 - UNSW research highlights risk factors behind South Asian migrant beach drownings

4th January 2022 - Sport Minister Richard Colbeck makes safety plea after holiday drownings

1st December 2021 - Victorian drowning report reveals tragedies behind highest drowning toll in 20 years

16th November 2021 - Lifeguard shortages create reopening challenges for Victoria’s seasonal pools

15th November 2021 - Royal Life Saving highlights ‘tens of thousands’ of job vacancies for lifeguards and swim teachers

18th May 2021 - Royal Life Saving highlights lifeguard and swim teacher shortage as providing opportunities for job seekers

4th May 2021 - Australian Professional Ocean Lifeguards Association conference to explore reversing rising summer drowning toll

19th April 2021 - Study shows aquatic centres struggling to recruit and retain lifeguards

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