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Victorian drowning report reveals tragedies behind highest drowning toll in 20 years

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

Coinciding with the first day of summer and National Water Safety Day, Life Saving Victoria has today released its 2020 - 21 Victorian Drowning Report, revealing the state’s highest drowning toll in 20 years.

The industry leading research shows a staggering increase in drowning figures during the past financial year, with young children and men overrepresented in drownings, and that 48% of people drowned within their residential postcode.

In releasing the report, Life Saving Victoria (LSV) today honoured the 61 people who lost their lives to drowning and whose stories make up the report with a temporary memorial of 61 rescue tubes erected at Sandridge Beach.

Explaining that it’s vital Victorians remember that the numbers represent real people who are tragically no longer here, LSV General Manager Health Promotion and Communications, Dr Bernadette Matthews stated “while anyone can drown, no one should. Life Saving Victoria is urging the community not to become complacent, and to remember that these are more than just numbers, they are people.

“Our intention in compiling this drowning report is to ensure that part of their legacy lives on to help prevent future drownings in Victorian waters. By examining areas of risk, we can help to inform our safety strategies and hopefully prevent further tragedy moving forward.

“Life Saving Victoria has been working closely with government, the water safety sector and the aquatic industry to address a number of preventative measures, in a bid to stop people from requiring assistance in the first place.”

With, a quarter of the drowning deaths being children aged between zero and 14 years old, Dr Matthews noted “it is even more heart-wrenching to highlight that of these fatalities, 15 involved children aged 0 - 14 years, equating to a quarter of all drownings and accounting for the highest age-specific fatal drowning rate this year.”

Ash Napolitano, mother of Hunter Boyle who was just two years-old when he drowned in a dam on his grandfather’s property, knows firsthand the heartache that comes when a child is lost to drowning and is urging all parents and carers to know the risks, explaining “I can’t describe the pain that comes with losing our boy, even after a year, it never gets easier.

“It’s surreal to think that he is one of the numbers in this report, because he was and is so much more than that.

“I can’t tell other parents or carers strongly enough, sometimes you can do everything to teach about being safe and it just takes that split second.

“It has been incredibly overwhelming, but I’ve tried to channel some of this grief into positive change, by setting up the Hunter Boyle Children's Swim Program with the support of Kidsafe Victoria. Piloted in our hometown of Shepparton, our aim is to fund 12 months’ worth of swimming lessons and water safety education to vulnerable children between the ages of six months - 12 years. We know we can educate our most vulnerable little people about the dangers of water and support them to learn a life skill.”

Life Saving Victoria’s message to all Victorians ahead of summer is to remember the reason you want to get back out of the water safely, and to keep kids away from danger.

Dr Matthews added “do not become a memory, please remember that a moment of distraction can lead to a lifetime of heartbreak.

“Actively supervise children around water in the home and when at the beach, river or pool. Stay safe by learning swimming, water safety and lifesaving skills, always seek out patrolled beaches and swim between the red and yellow flags. If boating or rock fishing, wear safety gear such as a fully-functioning, approved life jacket and gripped shoes, and remember that drugs and alcohol don’t mix with water.”

Life Saving Victoria commenced an extended lifesaving patrol season on Saturday 27th November, supported by the Victorian Government’s largest ever investment in water safety.

To find patrolled locations this summer visit

Main image: Life Saving Victoria has today honoured the 61 people who lost their lives to drowning in the past year with a temporary memorial of 61 rescue tubes erected at Sandridge Beach.

Related Articles

1st December 2021 - First day of summer marks National Water Safety Day

29th November 2021 - Royal Life Saving Society moves to appoint two independent directors

20th November 2021 - Widely reported near drowning at Adventure World shows need for child supervision in aquatic environments

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

12th November 2021 - New Royal Life Saving research shows social impact of the aquatic industry

11th November 2021 - Tragedy of toddler drowning claims lives of more than 500 young Australians

25th October 2021 - Extensions announced for NSW AUSTSWIM Teachers

11th October 2021 - Active Moreland recognised with three Platinum Pool Awards from Life Saving Victoria

5th October 2021 - Former MSAC head Simon Weatherill appointed interim AUSTSWIM Chief Executive

22nd September 2021 - Royal Life Saving announces new partnership program for swim schools

17th September 2021 - Royal Life Saving Webinar to mark 30 years of the GSPO and 25 years of aquatic facility safety assessments

14th September 2021 - Royal Life Saving and National Aquatic Industry Committee provides qualification extensions update

24th July 2021 - Life Saving bodies urge Australians to take action to end drowning on World Drowning Prevention Day

5th July 2021 - Life Saving Victoria renews Dandenong Oasis Platinum Pool status

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

26th May 2021 - Life Saving Victoria appoints new Chief Executive

17th May 2021 - Royal Life Saving’s Justin Scarr sees opportunities for aquatic facility infrastructure in Federal budget

17th May 2021 - Life Saving Victoria offers swim teachers free licence renewal in June

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

13th April 2021 - Life Saving Victoria partners to create 240 new Victorian Swim Teachers

9th April 2021 - Australian Water Safety Council seeks local government backing to help reduce drownings

15th March 2021 - Increase in summer drownings prompts plea from Surf Life Saving Australia

4th March 2021 - Life Saving Victoria announces more benefits for swim teachers

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