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Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving Australia report males account for 80% of all drowning deaths

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

Reports published today by Australia’s two peak water safety bodies - Royal Life Saving Society Australia and Surf Life Saving Australia – highlight that males accounted for 80% of all drowning deaths last season, with risk taking behaviours around water a key issue.

The reports highlight that men taking risks by overestimating their abilities while swimming at unpatrolled locations, consuming alcohol and drugs, and not wearing a lifejacket contribute to their over-representation in drowning statistics.

Despite a decrease of 8% in overall drowning deaths compared to the previous year, tragically 248 people drowned across Australia from July 2019-June 2020, with men aged 25-34 years the most at risk demographic.

There were 125 coastal drowning deaths, 82 drowning deaths in inland waterways, and 28 in swimming pools.  A further breakdown of coastal waters found 45 drowning deaths on beaches, 41 offshore and 26 at rock/cliff locations.

As published in the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2020 and Surf Life Saving National Coastal Safety Report 2020, the research findings also highlight:

  • Males accounted for 80% of all drowning deaths (93% for the 25 -34 age group)
  • Research shows that risk taking, use of alcohol and drugs, and the absence of appropriate safety precautions including lifejackets are key factors in male drowning.

Royal Life Saving Chief Executive, Justin Scarr advises “The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2020 is a sobering reminder that while Australians love the water, too many lives are lost, and families impacted by drowning each year.

“Men taking risks and overestimating abilities continues to be our greatest challenge. We urge men to look out for your mates, while holidaying, camping and boating on rivers and lakes.

“The 52% decrease in drowning of children under five is real progress, however we caution parents against complacency. Check your pool fence and gate, and always keep watch”.

Surf Life Saving Australia Chief Executive, Adam Weir adds “The Surf Life Saving National Coastal Safety Report 2020 highlights the importance of being aware of your actions and decisions around water.

“Swimming at unpatrolled locations, alcohol and drugs, and not wearing a lifejacket, are key contributors to why we continue to see men over-represented in our drowning statistics.

“For those boating, rock fishing and on watercraft the message is simple – please wear a lifejacket – it could save your life.”

With the support of the Australian Government, Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving work with the Australian Water Safety Council, State and Territory organisations, and local communities to prevent drowning across the country and increase water safety awareness.

Federal Minister for Sport Richard Colbeck said the Federal Government was determined to support organisations like Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving Australia to raise water safety awareness and to make our pools, waterways and beaches safer.

The Government continues to support drowning prevention initiatives delivered by organisations which include the peak bodies Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving Australia with Minister Colbeck advising that “an investment of $36 million helps with activities including awareness-raising and education, surf patrols, swimming and water safety education and new rescue technologies.”

To stay safe around water, Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving 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

Royal Life Saving Society – Australia National Drowning Report 2020. Available in full at 

Surf Life Saving National Coastal Safety Report 2020. Available in full at

NATIONAL Key findings – Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2020

  • 248 drowning deaths in Australia across all aquatic locations, an 8% decrease on 2018/19 and a 12% decrease compared with the 10-year average
  • Males accounted for 80% of all drowning deaths
  • Drowning deaths among children 0-4 years (12) decreased by 52%, compared with the 10-year average, but remain tragically high
  • Among young people aged 15-24 years, 48% drowned while swimming, highlighting the importance of swimming and lifesaving lessons in the secondary school years
  • Swimming was the leading activity being undertaken prior to drowning, accounting for a quarter of deaths (25%), followed by boating (18%) and falls (15%)
  • Drowning deaths in rivers decreased by 32% compared with the 10-year average, while deaths in lakes increased by 19%

NATIONAL Key findings – Surf Life Saving National Coastal Safety Report 2020

  • 125 coastal drowning fatalities, a 2.5% increase compared to 2018/19 and above the 16-year average of 115.
  • For the first time since collecting coastal drowning data, boating/PWC (31%) was the highest activity being undertaken at the time of drowning, followed by swimming/wading (20%) and rock fishing (14%)
  • Males continue to be significantly overrepresented in coastal drowning data with 86% for 2019/20
  • The highest number of coastal drowning deaths for 2019/20 were aged 20-24 years and 25-29 years
  • Rip currents have contributed to 25% of coastal drowning deaths since 2004
  • Only 4% of fatal rock fishing incidents were wearing a lifejacket since 2004

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1st July 2020 - Surf Life Saving Australia celebrates 40 years of Women in Surf Life Saving

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2nd March 2020 - Pride in Sport program welcomes Surf Life Saving Australia

27th January 2020 - Surf Life Saving NSW trials free Beach Wi-Fi technology

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