National Drowning Report 2021

8 September 2021

New research by Royal Life Saving (RLSSA) and Surf Life Saving (SLSA) has revealed a spike in drowning deaths in the past 12 months, with people swimming and recreating at unfamiliar locations, exhaustion, and interruptions to regular swimming during the COVID-19 pandemic considered key factors nationally. In the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2021 and Surf Life Saving National Coastal Safety Report 2021 released today, there were 294 drowning deaths in the past 12 months across Australia’s coastline, inland waterways and pools, which is 20% higher than last year.

Two key trends emerged - spikes in drowning deaths immediately following large-scale lockdowns: and more Australians holidaying domestically and swimming in unfamiliar (and often unpatrolled) locations. Alarmingly men were once again overrepresented in the drowning statistics, accounting for 80%, with alcohol and drugs, risk taking behaviour and over-estimating their ability considered key factors.

Here in Western Australia, despite being relatively unaffected by COVID lockdowns in the past 12 months, there was also a spike in drowning deaths, with 39 drowning deaths recorded which is a  22% increase on last year's figures. Males accounted for 90% of these drowning deaths, with six drowning deaths happening in rivers and creeks, a 36% increase on the previous year. Royal Life Saving WA Senior Manager Lauren Nimmo says due to border closures more Western Australians have been holidaying in our own state which means many are visiting unfamliar locations. “We are concerned about the sharp increase in drowning deaths in inland waterways, particularly rivers. Alcohol and drugs are a key factor in drowning, and lead men to overestimate their swimming ability and under-estimate the risks.”

With more Australians holidaying at home and visits to coastal areas and inland waterways increasing, water safety experts are pleading for people to not be complacent when on, in and around water. SLSA and RLSSA as the leading peak authorities for water safety are looking at strategies ahead of the warmer months. The organisations are looking at:

  • Water safety campaigns to commence earlier to coincide with projected easing of restrictions in the Eastern states
  • Urgent re-prioritisation of learn to swim programs once pools and swim schools reopen int he Eastern states
  • Increased mobile and agile emergency and lifesaving services to be put in place
  • Campaigns urging people to swim at patrolled beaches and local aquatic centres 
  • Campaigns reinforcing child supervision around water (home, rivers, beach), as well as pool fencing and gate maintenance ahead of summer
  • Encouraging all Australians to download the BeachSafe App ( to inform the public where to find patrolled beaches and potential hazards at popular coastal locations.


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. Prime Minister of Australia the Hon Scott Morrison said the 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. “Australia has some of the best volunteers and experts helping to keep us safe, but it’s the responsibility of us all that we do our part to listen and practice the messages around water safety. Keep between the flags, be cautious when swimming in new surroundings, and wear a life jacket when you should. I thank Royal Life Saving Australia and Surf Life Saving Australia for this report and their important contribution to saving lives on our waters."

“This summer, more than ever, Australians will want to get outdoors and enjoy summer. We are a water orientated nation, and it’s part of who we are. Whether it’s at the beach and the pool, in rivers and dams, or indeed, the family home, we all need to be mindful of how dangerous and unforgiving the water can be. The report brings together the learning of past years to remind us of what we can do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe" said Mr Morrison.

Minister for Sport Richard Colbeck said despite the enormous work to prevent drownings, ultimately keeping people safe was everybody’s responsibility. “Drowning deaths are more than just numbers on a page,” Minister Colbeck said. “Every death is a tragedy that impacts families for years to come. We each have a responsibility to make wise decisions around water, to look out for ourselves and each other. It is more important than ever to recognise the inherent dangers around water, particularly as the weather starts to warm up.”

WA Key findings

  • 39 drowning deaths in Western Australia in 2020/21; this is a 22% increase on last year and a 15% increase on the 10-year average
  • 90% of drowning deaths were males
  • 1 drowning death among children aged 0-4 years; this is a 108% increase on last year and a 9% increase on the 10-year average
  • No drowning deaths recorded amongst children aged 5-14 years
  • People aged 25-34 years accounted for 18% of all drowning deaths
  • People aged 65-74 years accounted for 26% of all drowning deaths, the most of any age group
  • Oceans and harbours were the leading location for drowning (26%), followed by beaches (18%) and swimming pools (18%)
  • Six drowning deaths in rivers and creeks; this is a 36% increase on last year
  • Five drowning deaths in home swimming pools; this is an 18% increase on last year
  • Swimming and recreating was the leading activity prior to drowning (23%), followed by boating (18%) and watercraft (13%)


You can download the full report at the link below.

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