Report finds rivers the leading location for drowning

Royal Life Saving Rivers 10 Year Report

Figures released by Royal Life Saving Society – Australia today show that 735 people have drowned in Australian rivers, creeks and streams between 2002 and 2012. Across this ten year period, rivers, creeks and streams are the aquatic location that have accounted for the highest number of drowning deaths, accounting for 25% of the deaths in the last decade.

“This research is alarming and highlights what Royal Life Saving has continually found in annual National Drowning Reports, that rivers account for more drownings than beaches or swimming pools. It’s high time that people treated rivers with the same respect they have learned to show when recreating at the beach” says Royal Life Saving CEO Justin Scarr. 

Alcohol was identified as being involved in 37% of drownings in rivers, creeks and streams across the period of this study. Almost half (49%) of all drowning deaths of people aged 45-54 years were known to involve alcohol. In one quarter of all cases, the victim had a blood alcohol content of 0.05 or greater. Thirteen percent of all drowning victims had a blood alcohol content of 0.2 or higher, four times the legal limit.

Justin Scarr says “What is extremely concerning to Royal Life Saving is the amount of alcohol being consumed when people are recreating, and drowning, in Australia’s rivers. We’re not talking about a quiet drink or two. In over half of all cases where alcohol was recorded, the blood alcohol content of the victims was equal to or over 0.05.”

The research has enabled Royal Life Saving to identify the top 10 river drowning black spots across the country. The Murray River was identified as the number one river drowning black spot in the country with 43 deaths, followed by the Brisbane River in Queensland and the Yarra River in Victoria. The remaining top 10 river drowning black spots are: the Swan River (WA), Hawkesbury River (NSW), Murrumbidgee River (NSW), Sandy Creek (QLD), Derwent River (TAS), Katherine River (NT) and rounding out the top ten is the Macquarie River (NSW).

The Minister for Sport, Peter Dutton said “As a water loving nation, these statistics show that far too many drowning deaths are occurring in our waterways.”

”This is why the Abbott Government has committed an additional $15 million over five years to reduce drownings. This includes a $4 million investment in the Royal Life Saving Society of Australia to actively target black spots for river drownings in our community and expand their swim and survive lessons for children."

Royal Life Saving welcomes the Abbott Government’s commitment to reducing drowning in inland waterways and promoting access to swimming and water safety in disadvantaged communities. Over the next four year Royal Life Saving will be working across the country to implement drowning prevention interventions targeting known river drowning black spots and educating the community on risk reduction strategies when recreating in such aquatic locations.

Men tragically continue to drown at a rate of 4 times the rate of women, accounting for 80% of all
drowning deaths in Australian rivers, creeks and streams. Men 20 to 29 years of age accounted for the largest number of drowning deaths with 105 deaths.

Falls account for 20% of all river drowning deaths. This was followed by incidents involving non-aquatic transport (18%), such as cars and swimming and recreating (15%) and accidents involving watercraft (14%). In 18% of all cases, the activity immediately prior to drowning was unknown indicating that many victims are undertaking aquatic activity alone in rivers, creeks and streams.

Drowning in rivers is largely a local issue, with almost three quarters (74%) of people who drowned in rivers doing so within 100km of their home postcode. “Although you may be familiar with your area and regularly swim, boat or fish in your local creeks and streams, these figures show that many people underestimate just how risky the river environment can be. Conditions can change quickly and when something goes wrong, the outcome is often fatal” Justin Scarr says.

Seventeen percent of all river drowning deaths took place in remote or very remote areas of Australia. These locations are isolated and often some distance from timely medical assistance. “Royal Life Saving urges all Australians to learn resuscitation, however it’s even more important to know CPR and basic rescue skills in cases of drowning emergencies in isolated locations” says Justin Scarr.

To access a full copy of the report click here.

Media enquiries to Media Key on 03 9769 6488
Justin Scarr, Chief Executive Officer and Amy Peden, National Manager – Research & Policy are available to talk about this release.
Royal Life Saving River Research Key Findings

  • 735 people have drowned in Australian rivers, creeks and streams between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2012
  • Men account for 80% of all drowning deaths in rivers across the decade
  • New South Wales recorded the highest number of drowning deaths with 246 drowning deaths, followed by Queensland with 219 and Victoria with 98 river drowning deaths
  • Falls into water accounted for 20% of river drowning deaths, followed by accidents involving non-aquatic transport (18%), swimming and recreating (15%) and accidents involving watercraft (14%). Activity was unknown in 18% of river drowning deaths.
  • 17% of all river drowning deaths took place in remote or very remote areas of Australia
  • 17% of all river drowning deaths were known to be flood related.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders drown in rivers at a rate that is 4.5 times that of the non-Indigenous population.

Royal Life Saving Top 10 River Drowning Black Spots

  1. Murray River
  2. Brisbane River (QLD)
  3. Yarra River (VIC)
  4. Swan River (WA)
  5. Hawkesbury River (NSW)
  6. Murrumbidgee River (NSW)
  7. Sandy Creek (QLD)
  8. Derwent River (TAS)
  9. Katherine River (NT)
  10. Macquarie River (NSW)

Royal Life Saving’s River Drowning Prevention Tips

  • Never swim alone.
  • Never undertake any form of aquatic activity under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Be aware of hazards specific to rivers and creeks such as sudden pockets of deep water, cold water, an uneven river bed, steep and often unstable river banks.
  • In rivers and creeks, strong currents and submerged objects that are often difficult to see due to the murky water.
  • When boating, always wear a lifejacket, check weather conditions before setting off and tell someone where you are going and when you are due back.
  • Always actively supervise children around water.

Rivers Infographic