National Drowning Report 2016

15 September 2016

The 2016 Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report has found that 280 people drowned in Australian waterways in the 2015/16 financial year, a 5% increase on the 267 drowning deaths recorded last year.

Males continue to drown at a far higher rate than females, accounting for 83% of drowning deaths in 2015/16. This the highest percentage of male drowning deaths in the past 10 years. Almost one fifth of deaths (19%) occurred in people aged 25-34 years, higher than any other age group and a 27% increase against the 10 year average.

Here in Western Australian there were 37 drowning deaths, which is an increase of 6% on the 10 year average. The highest number of deaths occurred in people aged 25-34 years (22%), with almost a third of people drowning in ocean/harbour locations (30%). More than a quarter of people who drowned were boating at the time of the incident (27%), while those in regional areas drowned at a rate 3.5 times higher than those in the Perth metro area.

The most positive data to come out of this year's report is that there were no drowning deaths in children aged 5-14 in Western Australia, which shows the great value Royal Life Saving's Swim and Survive program which has been focused on teaching school aged children vital swimming and water safety skills for decades. 

Royal Life Saving urges parents to ensure their children participate in programs such as Swim and Survive, so that we can continue to prevent drowning and promote lifelong safe aquatic activity for our children.

Royal Life Saving Society WA's Senior Manager Health Promotion and Research, Lauren Nimmo says “Each drowning death is a personal story, impacting on families, rescuers and communities. Royal Life Saving is committed to reducing the number of drowning deaths in Australia and will continue to work with our partners to achieve this goal”.

In WA this year oceans and harbours were the leading location for drowning, accounting for 30% of deaths, followed by home pools (24%) and beaches (19%). Royal Life Saving says a decrease in the number of people drowning at rivers, creeks, lakes and dams is encouraging, but we need to continue to be vigilant.

Although rivers and other inland waterways often look calm from the surface, there may be submerged obstacles which are not visible and conditions can change rapidly. Ms Nimmo says “We want people to remember Respect the River’s four simple safety tips; wear a lifejacket, avoid alcohol around water, never swim alone and learn how to save a life”.

Alcohol consumption was also a risk factor for drowning, with 15% of people found to have a positive reading for alcohol in their bloodstream at the time of drowning. Research shows that alcohol can impair judgment and coordination, slow reaction times and increase risk taking behaviour. Of those who had consumed alcohol, 40% recorded a blood alcohol concentration four times the legal limit (0.2mg/L) or higher.

This year, 25 overseas tourists drowned. Almost half (44%) of these visitors were from Asian countries, with most occurring away from patrolled areas on beaches, in resort swimming pools and rivers, whilst swimming or diving. Royal Life Saving advises tour operators and international student education services to ensure that they factor in water safety when planning tourist activities anywhere near the water.  

Drowning occurred all year round but peaked in January during warmer weather. More deaths were recorded on Sundays than any other day of the week, with almost half (45%) of all drowning deaths occurring in the afternoon between midday and 6pm.