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Drowning Deaths decrease but Life Saving bodies urge against water safety complacency

Drowning Deaths decrease but Life Saving bodies urge against water safety complacency
September 12, 2018

Australia’s peak drowning prevention and lifesaving bodies, Royal Life Saving Society - Australia and Surf Life Saving Australia have today released their annual reports outlining the impacts of fatal and non-fatal drowning deaths across the country last year.

For the 2017/18 year the organisations have identified that there were 249 drowning deaths across Australia, including: 110 in coastal waters; 61 at rivers, creeks and streams; 33 in swimming pools and 20 in lakes, dams, and lagoons.

Releasing the findings today Parliament House, Canberra, Federal Minister for Regional Services, Sport, Local Government and Decentralisation Bridget McKenzie commented “I urge all Australians to watch their children around water, swim at patrolled beaches between the red and yellow flags, to wear lifejackets when on boats and watercraft, avoid alcohol around water and to teach their children about swimming and water safety.

“We are nation of water lovers and thanks to decades of campaigning we have brought our drowning rates down - but we need to move the dial even further.

“I especially want to encourage regional Australians to be alert around all waterways including rivers, creeks, dams and beaches. Keep an eye on your children, family and friends, and if you see someone being unsafe or struggling - raise the alarm.”

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report shows that there were 249 drowning deaths and an estimated 551 hospitalisations resulting from non-fatal drowning incidents across Australia between 1st July 2017 and 30th June 2018. – a 14% decrease on 2016/2017.

Welcoming the findings, Royal Life Saving Chief Executive Justin Scarr stated “this is lowest number of drowning deaths ever recorded in Australia. The figures show that drowning prevention initiatives continue to reduce the impacts of drowning across most waterways and age groups. However, we cannot be complacent about water safety.

“Toddler drowning deaths have been dramatically reduced over time, yet drowning continues to be one of the leading causes of accidental death of children aged under five years. Swimming and water educations remains a key priority for all school aged children.”

The Surf Life Saving National Coastal Safety Report 2018 reveals that 110 coastal drowning deaths occurred in the past year which is above the 14 year average of 99 drowning deaths.

Commenting on these findings, Surf Life Saving Australia President Graham Ford advised “we are both pleased and saddened to present this report. While it demonstrates many actions that have been taken and lives saved, it also represents the tragic story of lives lost at our beaches.

“The report also recognises the 10,249 rescues that were conducted around the country by our SLS volunteers.

“Solutions to big issues are best built with others, and together Royal Life Saving Society – Australia and Surf Life Saving Australia are working to prevent drowning across the country.

“Surf Life Saving is delighted to be working with Royal Life Saving and the Government to reduce these incidents from occurring in the future.”

To stay safe around water Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving Australia urge all Australians to:

• Supervise children at all times around water
• Learn swimming and lifesaving skills
• Wear a lifejacket when boating, rock fishing or paddling
• Swim at a patrolled beach between the red and yellow flags
• Avoid alcohol around water 

Key findings from the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2018 include:

• 249 people drowned in Australian waterways, a 14% decrease compared to 2016/17 
• It is estimated a further 551 people were hospitalised due to non-fatal drowning
• 72% of drowning deaths were men, with alcohol and risk taking a common factor
• Rivers, creeks and streams were the location with the largest number of drowning deaths, accounting for 25% of all drowning deaths
• 18 children aged 0-4 years drowned in Australia, which represents a 36% reduction on the 10 year average 
• 67% of drowning deaths of children aged 0-4 years were in swimming pools. 
• 25% of all drowning deaths occurred when swimming and recreating
• Two in five drowning deaths occurred in summer

For more information about the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2018 go to

Key findings from the National Coastal Safety Report 2018 include:

• 110 coastal drowning fatalities, a 7% decrease compared to 2016/17
• 80% of coastal drowning deaths were male
• 19% included alcohol or drugs as a contributing factor to drowning
• Almost half (47%) of coastal drowning deaths occurred during the months of summer (December to February)
• Swimming and wading (32%) was the most common activity being undertaken at the time of drowning, followed by boating and snorkelling 
• A majority of coastal drowning deaths occurred at the beach (42%) followed by offshore and rock/cliff locations
• The highest number of coastal drowning deaths were aged 40 to 44 years followed by 20 to 24 year olds.

For more information about Surf Life Saving Australia’s National Coastal Safety 2018 go to

Images: A simulated emergency rescue (top); volunteer surf lifesavers (middle) and Royal Life Saving highlight the dangers associated with rivers, creeks and streams (below).

Related Articles

10th September 2018 - NSW surfers and lifesavers reach historic agreement

7th September 2018 - German lifeguards warn that child drownings linked to parents’ smartphone ‘fixation’

1st September 2018 - Queensland primary school students to get free swimming lessons

22nd August 2018 - Baulkham Waves team member receives Royal Life Saving Excellence in Customer Service award

15th June 2018 - Education program teaches youth migrants how to stay safe in Australian waters

7th June 2018 - Research shows seven percent of river users as being legally drunk

1st June 2018 - National symposium looks to synchronise swimming and water safety initiatives

15th May 2018 - Victorian Government announces ongoing backing of VICSWIM program

4th May 2018 - SWIM MY WAY program introduces migrants to swimming safety

2nd May 2018 - Federal Government commits $36.9 million to water safety initiatives

26th April 2018 - World Infant Aquatics Conference to feature international award winners

19th April 2018 - Royal Life Saving study finds lack of supervision behind child drownings at public facilities

5th April 2018 - Pioneering water safety and life skills program set for Northern Territory launch

14th March 2018 - New research could prove key to preventing drowning deaths among Victorian children

1st March 2018 - Royal Life Saving opens nominations for 2018 National Aquatic Industry Safety Awards

19th January 2018 - Australian lifesaving drone in world first ocean rescue

9th November 2017 - Royal Life Saving urges parents to be certain on supervision around water

22nd September 2017 - Infant swimming the key to cutting drowning rates

15th September 2017 - Australian Leisure Facilities Association echoes concerns raised in 2017 National Drowning Report

12th September 2017 - Small increase in Australia’s annual drowning numbers

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