Summer drownings increase in Australia once again

9 March 2022

Sadly, 112 drowning deaths have been reported across Australia this summer. This is a 30% increase on the summer of 2020/21 which saw 86 drowning deaths. Six of this year’s tragic deaths occurred here in Western Australia, which was down from 11 the previous summer but still every bit as devastating for the families left behind.

During the summer months, many people look forward to heading to the great outdoors and enjoying our abundant aquatic spaces with family and friends. Unfortunately, all too often, not everyone makes it home again. Western Australia saw two-thirds of drownings occurring at coastal locations during our record-breaking summer of intense heatwaves as people flocked to the coast to cool off.

Continuing a concerning long-term trend, males accounted for 79% of all national drownings. The trend of males being over-represented in drowning statistics has previously been attributed to a greater level of risk taking and the consumption of alcohol while recreating around water. The largest number of deaths occurred among people aged 35-64 years (45%).

Inland waterways – including rivers, creeks, lakes and dams – claimed 57 lives this year. Coastal locations claimed another 50 lives at beaches, harbours, coastal rocks and in the ocean. New South Wales saw the greatest loss of life with 41 drowning deaths occurring in the state (37%), followed by Queensland with 35 drowning deaths (31%). Tragically, 12 children lost their lives this summer.

Extreme weather events were to blame for an increase in flooding-related incidents, half of these occurring in the last few days of February. Flooding-related drowning accounted for 20% of all drowning deaths and occurred in the Northern Territory, New South Wales, and Queensland. More than half of Queensland's summer drowning deaths were flooding related,

"Our thoughts are with all the communities who have recently experienced flooding and lost someone during these devastating events," said Royal Life Saving Society - Australia CEO Justin Scarr. "With more rain predicted over autumn, we urge people not to drive through or swim in flood waters."

The Christmas and New Year holiday break was the deadliest time for recreational drowning deaths, with the highest number in a single day occurring on Sunday 2nd January (7), followed by Christmas Day (6). The fatalities coincided with public holidays, some state borders reopening and hot and dry weather across the country during this period. "After two years of missed family gatherings and opportunities to catch up with friends, we knew Australians were looking forward to getting out and about this summer," Mr Scarr said. "It is devastating to see some of those trips end in heartbreak."

Royal Life Saving is reminding Australians to enjoy the water safely year-round. Follow these tips to enjoy the water safely:

  • Always supervise children around water
  • Avoid alcohol around water
  • Wear a lifejacket when boating, using watercraft, or rock fishing
  • Avoid swimming or recreating alone
  • Know the conditions
  • Don't drive through floodwaters

View the full Royal Life Saving Summer Drowning Toll information at the link below.

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The Summer Drowning Toll collates figures derived from media reports only and, as such, should be considered interim pending outcomes of ongoing coronial investigations. The Toll is an important advocacy tool and provides timely information to policymakers, practitioners and journalists.