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New Water Safety Strategy sets out plan to significantly cut Australia’s drowning rate

New Water Safety Strategy sets out plan to significantly cut Australia’s drowning rate
March 25, 2021

Australia’s peak water safety bodies have come together today to launch the Australian Water Safety Strategy 2030, outlines priority areas for the prevention of drowning on beaches, at rivers and lakes, and in swimming pools across the nation.

The new Strategy is being launched to counter the more than 280 people who die in Australia each year due to drowning, with many more admitted to hospital following a non-fatal drowning incident.

The Strategy launch was made this morning at Parliament House in Canberra, undertaken by Federal Minister for Regional Health, Regional Communications and Local Government, Mark Coulton (on behalf of Federal Minister for Sport Richard Colbeck) in conjunction with the Australian Water Safety Council (AWSC).

The Australian Water Safety Strategy (AWSS) plays an essential role in National, State and Territory, and community approaches to preventing drowning and promoting safe use of the nation’s waterways and swimming pools. It outlines priority areas where Australia’s peak water safety bodies Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving, and AWSC Members can work together to prevent drowning on beaches, at rivers and lakes, and in swimming pools across Australia.

Launching the Strategy, AWSC Convenor, Justin Scarr stated “the previous Australian Water Safety Strategy proved effective with the fatal drowning rate reducing by 26% over the last ten years and drowning in children aged 0-4 years reducing by 50%, however, drowning remains unacceptably high, impacting more than 280 families each year”.

In a statement, Senator Colbeck explained that there was more work to be done to ensure all Australians are safe in water, commenting “I applaud the Australian Water Safety Council for its commitment to reducing drowning by 50% by 2030.

“Every drowning prevented or avoided is another family which doesn’t have to face the heartbreak of losing a loved one.”

This new Australian Water Safety Strategy seeks to raise awareness about non-fatal drowning incidents, encourage communities to create local water safety plans and promote access to swimming and water safety skills for all Australians, including refugees, migrants and those living in regional areas.

Scarr also advised “being able to swim for fun, fitness or health is a great Australian past-time and is a skill that is essential for drowning prevention. The Australian Water Safety Strategy seeks to help all Australians to learn swimming and water safety skills, irrespective of where they live.

“In addition to skills, the Australian Water Safety Strategy promotes the importance of frontline water safety services, including volunteer surf lifesavers, lifeguards, and swimming instructors. “The Strategy encourages extension of services, as well as innovative approaches such as the use of drones and emergency stations in remote locations.

“Water safety is everyone’s responsibility and the strategy outlines what water safety organisations, councils and community members can do to help. We acknowledge the long-standing support of the Federal Government in reducing drowning in Australia. We have some of the lowest drowning rates in the world but still every drowning is tragic and preventable.”

Key findings - Australian Water Safety Strategy 2030

• For every fatal drowning, there are three non-fatal drowning incidents
• Males drown at a rate four times that of females
• One-year-old toddlers record the highest drowning rate of any age
• Rivers and lakes account for 36% of drowning deaths
• Coastal environments (beaches, ocean and rock) account for 41% of drowning deaths
• 23% of drowning deaths occur while swimming and recreating
• 61% of drowning deaths occur outside of major cities
• Fatal drowning rate has reduced by 26% over the last 10 years
• Child (0-4 years) fatal drowning rate has reduced by 50% over the last ten years

To stay safe around water, the Australian Water Safety Council urge all Australians to:

• Supervise children at all times in, on and around water
• Learn swimming, water safety 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 and drugs around water

The Australian Water Safety Council was formed in 1998 and provides a forum for collaboration among peak water safety organisations, conducts regular conferences, workshops and symposiums, and develops, monitors and evaluates progress of the Australian Water Safety Strategy.

Each year more than 280 people die due to drowning, with many more admitted to hospital following a non-fatal drowning incident. 41% of drowning occurs in coastal environments (beaches, ocean and rocks), 36% in rivers and lakes, and 61% outside of major cities. Males drown at a rate four times that of females and one-year-old toddlers record the highest drowning rate of any age.

For more information on the Australian Water Safety Council and to download a copy of the Australian Water Safety Strategy 2030, visit

Images: Drowning prevention course being undertaken by Royal Life Saving Society - WA in Port Hedland (top) and Justin Scarr (below).

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1st February 2021 - Life Saving Victoria marks 30-year Australian Water Safety Education Centre partnership

25th January 2021 - Surf Life Saving Australia warns drowning deaths more likely on public holidays

4th December 2020 - AUSTSWIM offers 50% subsidised Swimming and Water Safety training in Victoria

23rd November 2020 - Royal Life Saving’s latest Keep Watch campaign highlights tragic drowning toll among children aged under 12 months

21st October 2020 - Blacktown City Council launches Drowning Prevention Strategy

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30th September 2020 - CQU researcher seeks input with study into drowning prevention strategies

23rd September 2020 - Paul Sadler Swimland concerned that limited access to swimming lessons increases drowning risks for children

18th September 2020 - Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving Australia report males account for 80% of all drowning deaths

11th August 2020 - Royal Life Saving publishes new National Swimming and Water Safety Framework for learn to swim programs

30th July 2020 - New research has potential to reduce risk of drownings at Australian aquatic facilities

14th July 2020 - ‘Culturally Competent’ aquatic centres look to reduce drownings among diverse communities

19th March 2020 - Drownings fall across Australian summer of extremes

19th December 2019 - Royal Life Saving WA partners with LIWA Aquatics to stress water safety vigilance over summer holidays

5th December 2019 - AUSTSWIM receives funding boost to combat multicultural drownings

2nd December 2019 - Rescue tubes trialled at Coffs Harbour beaches to help reduce drownings

2nd December 2019 - Victorian drowning report shows worst toll in 20 years

12th November 2019 - South Australian beach drowning inquest calls for enhanced warning signs and lifesavers to operate over longer hours

7th November 2019 - NSW lifeguards look to halt drownings of foreign swimmers this summer

16th September 2019 - Rising drowning deaths coincide with record summer temperatures

22nd May 2019 - Federal Government won’t deliver on APOLA funding plea to reduce drownings

7th December 2018 - Australian Water Safety council addresses drowning among multicultural communities

7th August 2015 - Australian Water Safety Council looks to improve reductions in drowning numbers

9th April 2012 - Water Safety Council conference to present plan to reduce drownings by half

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