National Drowning Report 2020

18 September 2020

Royal Life Saving Society Australia and Surf Life Saving Australia have today jointly launched their drowning reports for the 2019/20 financial year, with data showing that males accounted for 80% of all drowning deaths. Despite a national 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.

In Western Australia, overall drowning numbers rose by 14% compared to the previous year, meaning tragically 33 people lost their lives, with men continuing to be overrepresented in our state’s drowning statistics also.

The WA data shows that 57% of our state’s drowning deaths happened outside of the Perth metropolitan area, with people 3.8 times more likely to drown in regional WA. Royal Life Saving WA CEO Peter Leaversuch says with travel restrictions leading to more West Australians taking an opportunity to “wander out yonder” there is a concern that the drowning risks in regional WA will increase even further this summer. “During the upcoming school holidays we know that many Western Australian families will be travelling within the state, and enjoying some of the many incredible inland waterway and coastal locations WA has to offer. We would encourage people to keep water safety front of mind, and be especially aware of potential dangers when visiting unfamiliar locations.”

Nationally, 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.

Research shows that risk taking, use of alcohol and drugs, and the absence of appropriate safety precautions including lifejackets are key factors in drownings that involve men. Royal Life Saving Australia CEO, Justin Scarr, said “The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2020 is asobering 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."

There was a 52% decrease in drowning involving children under five, which is a pleasing statistic, and Western Australia recorded no drowning deaths in this age group for the first time in our recorded data. However, Royal Life Saving WA CEO Peter Leaversuch says now is not the time to become complacent. “We’re concerned that more than 60,000 Western Australian children have missed out on taking part ins wimming and water safety lessons this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which could leave them at a greater risk of drowning this summer. We’d urge parents to enrol their children in Infant Aquatics and Swim and Survive classes, and as always check your pool fence and gate, and always keep watch.”

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 Morrison 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 emotional toll of a single drowning death can be felt acutely by families, friends and local communities,” Minister Colbeck said. Overwhelmingly, he said the latest reports showed young men remained in the highest category of risk. “Please look out for each other and follow any safety warnings around water as the warmer months approach.” The Government continues to support drowning prevention initiatives delivered by organisations which include the peak bodies Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving Australia. “An investment of $36 million helps with activities including awareness-raising and education, surf patrols, swimming lessons and new rescue technologies,” Mr Colbeck said.

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 

You can download the full report at the link below.

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