Rivers claim more than 1000 lives since 2002

5 October 2017

Australians have access to a wide range of beautiful rivers, creeks and other inland waterways, and enjoy using them for a variety of water activities. But sadly these locations continue to claim far too many lives through drowning. Royal Life Saving research shows that 1,113 people drowned in Australia rivers, creeks and streams over the past 15 years, with males accounting for 81% of these drowning deaths.

Here in Western Australia 89 people have drowned in rivers, creeks and streams between July 1st 2002 and June 30th 2016. 85% were male and the leading age group was 35 to 44 year olds, who accounted for 24% of all river drowning deaths in our state.

Nationally, rivers, creeks and streams are the leading location for drowning in Australia, but many people still underestimate the dangers present in these seemingly calm, safe locations.
It is often incorrectly assumed that tourists account for the majority of drowning deaths, however, in reality nearly three quarters (74%) of drowning deaths in rivers nationally involved locals who drowned within 100 km of their home. Royal Life Saving Society – Australia CEO Justin Scarr says, “Conditions in rivers can change rapidly. Just because you might regularly visit an area, doesn’t mean the environment will be the same the next time you go. Rivers can be very hazardous environments. Often you cannot see ice cold water, rocks, snags like tree branches or strong currents. It’s vital that people are aware of these hazards.”

Royal Life Saving, with the support of the Federal Government, is addressing these tragic statistics through the roll out of a national drowning prevention and public awareness campaign called "Respect the River".  Mr Scarr says, “The large number of people drowning in our rivers, creeks and streams is alarming. Through the Respect the River campaign, Royal Life Saving aims to raise awareness of the dangers in our rivers as well as the preventable nature of these tragedies.”

Alarmingly, of the men who drowned, more than half (51%) had a contributory level of drugs or alcohol in their system at the time, which is concerning statistic. Mr Scarr says, “Men are prone to taking unnecessary risks and over-estimating their abilities, but with the changeable conditions in rivers, this can, and does put their life in danger. We are asking people to follow four simple steps to reduce their drowning risk in rivers: wear a lifejacket, avoid alcohol and drugs around water, never swim alone and learn how to save a life. It’s simple, Respect the River.

A joint study undertaken by Royal Life Saving and James Cook University, examined 10 years of fatal river drowning in Australia. The study, published in the PLoSONE journal, identified key at risk groups and behaviours in order to aid prevention efforts. The study found that males when compared to females were 3 times as likely to drown in a river due to a boating or watercraft related incident and 4 times as likely to drown as a result of jumping (commonly from bridges and trees whilst engaging in risk taking behaviour).

The lack of lifejackets being used in inland waterways is also concerning. Of those that drowned when using boats and watercraft, only 5% were found to be wearing a lifejacket.

“Don’t be complacent about water safety. Be prepared when you go out on the water, wear a lifejacket, avoid alcohol and drugs around water, never swim alone and learn how to save a life” says Mr Scarr. “Australian rivers are beautiful and can be great places to recreate, from boating to swimming to kayaking and even taking in the environment along the river bank. We want everyone to enjoy these beautiful natural environments but to do so safely, by showing rivers the respect they deserve."

Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, with the support of the Federal Government, is rolling out the Respect the River campaign in every state and territory with a range of local educational programs, events and activities supported by a series of national community service announcements and wide ranging social media activities. To stay up to date with activities and events available across Western Australia throughout the summer keep an eye on the link below, or like our Royal Life Saving Society WA Facebook page for regular updates.

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