Drowning Deaths Decrease But Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving Urge Against Water Safety Complacency


Australia’s peak drowning prevention and lifesaving bodies, Royal Life Saving Society – Australia and Surf Life Saving Australia have today released their annual reports outlining the impacts of fatal and non-fatal drowning deaths across the country last year.

For the 2017-18 year the organisations have identified that there were 249 drowning deaths across Australia. Including:

  • 110 in coastal waters,
  • 61 at rivers, creeks and streams,
  • 33 in swimming pools,
  • 20 in lakes, dams, and lagoons.

The reports were released today by Senator the Hon Bridget McKenzie, Minister for Regional Services, Sport, Local Government and Decentralisation at Parliament House, Canberra.

Minister for Sport, Senator the Hon Bridget McKenzie said the Coalition Government is committed to reducing drowning in Australia.

“I urge all Australians to watch their children around water, swim at patrolled beaches between the red and yellow flags, to wear lifejackets when on boats and watercraft, avoid alcohol around water and to teach their children about swimming and water safety,” said Minister McKenzie.

“We are a nation of water lovers and thanks to decades of campaigning we have brought our drowning rates down – but we need to move the dial even further.

“I especially want to encourage regional Australians to be alert around all waterways including rivers, creeks, dams and beaches. Keep an eye on your children, family and friends, and if you see someone being unsafe or struggling – raise the alarm,” she said.

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report shows that there were 249 drowning deaths and an estimated 551 hospitalisations resulting from non-fatal drowning incidents across Australia between 1 July 2017 and 30 June 2018. The figure is a 14% decrease on 2016/2017.

Royal Life Saving Society – Australia, CEO, Justin Scarr said, “This is the lowest number of drowning deaths ever recorded in Australia. The figures show that drowning prevention initiatives continue to reduce the impacts of drowning across most waterways and age groups. However, we cannot be complacent about water safety.”

“Toddler drowning deaths have been dramatically reduced over time, yet drowning continues to be one of the leading causes of accidental death of children aged under 5 years. Swimming and water safety education remains a key priority for all school aged children.”

The Surf Life Saving National Coastal Safety Report 2018 reveals that 110 coastal drowning deaths occurred in the past year which is above the 14 year average of 99 drowning deaths.

Speaking at today’s launch SLSA President Graham Ford AM said “We are both pleased and saddened to present this report. While it demonstrates many actions that have been taken and lives saved, it also represents the tragic story of lives lost at our beaches.

“The report also recognises the 10,249 rescues that were conducted around the country by our SLS volunteers.

Solutions to big issues are best built with others, and together Royal Life Saving Society – Australia and Surf Life Saving Australia are working to prevent drowning across the country.

“Surf Life Saving is delighted to be working with Royal Life Saving and the Government to reduce these incidents from occurring in the future”, said Mr Ford.

To stay safe around water Royal Life Saving and Surf Life Saving Australia urge all Australians to:

  • Supervise children at all times around water
  • Learn swimming 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 around water

All media enquiries to Media Key at 0409 420 112 or 03 9769 6488

Key findings from the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2018 include:

  • 249 people drowned in Australian waterways, a 14% decrease compared to 2016/17
  • It is estimated a further 551 people were hospitalised due to non-fatal drowning
  • 72% of drowning deaths were men, with alcohol and risk taking a common factor
  • Rivers, creeks and streams were the location with the largest number of drowning deaths, accounting for 25% of all drowning deaths
  • 18 children aged 0-4 years drowned in Australia, which represents a 36% reduction on the 10 year average
  • 67% of drowning deaths of children aged 0-4 years were in swimming pools.
  • 25% of all drowning deaths occurred when swimming and recreating
  • Two in five drowning deaths occurred in summer

For more information about the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2018 please click here.

Key findings from the National Coastal Safety Report 2018 include:

  • 110 coastal drowning fatalities, a 7% decrease compared to 2016/17
  • 80% of coastal drowning deaths were male
  • 19% included alcohol or drugs as a contributing factor to drowning
  • Almost half (47%) of coastal drowning deaths occurred during the months of summer (December – February)
  • Swimming and wading (32%) was the most common activity being undertaken at the time of drowning, followed by boating and snorkelling
  • A majority of coastal drowning deaths occurred at the beach (42%) followed by offshore and rock/cliff locations
  • The highest number of coastal drowning deaths were aged 40-44 followed by 20-24 year old

For more information about Surf Life Saving Australia’s National Coastal Safety 2018 please click here.