Royal Life Saving Releases National Drowning Report 2016 at Parliament House Canberra

RLS National Drowning Report 2016

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2016 found that 280 people drowned in Australian waterways in the 2015/16 financial year. This figure represents a 5% increase on the 267 drowning deaths recorded last year, with males drowning at a far higher rate than females.

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2016 was officially launched by the Hon. Sussan Ley MP, Minister for Health and Aged Care, Minister for Sport at Parliament House in Canberra.

The 2016 Report shows males accounted for 83% of drowning deaths in 2015/16. This is the highest percentage of male drowning deaths in the past 10 years. Almost one fifth of deaths (19%) occurred in people aged 25-34 years, with 52 deaths recorded. This was higher than any other age group and a 27% increase against the 10 year average.

Inland waterways continue to be a leading location for drowning, with more than a quarter of all drowning deaths occurring at rivers, creeks, lakes and dams. There were 75 deaths at inland waterways this year, including 58 at rivers and creeks, and 17 at lakes and dams.

There was a 25% decrease in drowning deaths at rivers, with the 58 drowning deaths recorded in 2015/16 a reduction on the 10 year average of 77 drowning deaths.

Royal Life Saving Society – Australia CEO, Justin Scarr says “The Royal Life Saving Respect the River program has been well received in communities around Australia, with initiatives along many rivers including the Murray, the Swan, and the Katherine River”.

There was a 30% decrease in the number of children aged 0-4 years who drowned this year when compared to the 10 year average, with 21 deaths recorded. Children under five are at the highest risk of drowning, making this age group a high priority for drowning prevention initiatives.

Justin Scarr says “Each drowning death is a personal story, impacting on families, rescuers and communities. Royal Life Saving is committed to reducing the number of drowning deaths in Australia and will continue to work with our partners to achieve this goal”.

This year, beaches were the leading location for drowning, accounting for 23% of deaths, followed by rivers and creeks (21%) and ocean / harbour locations (19%). Royal Life Saving notes the decrease in the number of people drowning at rivers, creeks, lakes and dams is encouraging.

Although rivers and other inland waterways often look calm from the surface, there may be submerged obstacles which are not visible and conditions can change rapidly. Royal Life Saving Society – Australia CEO, Justin Scarr says “We want people to remember Respect the River’s four simple safety tips; wear a lifejacket, avoid alcohol around water, never swim alone and learn how to save a life”.

Eleven children aged 5-14 years drowned this year. Although this was a decrease against the 10 year average, these tragic events reinforce the importance of all children learning swimming and water safety skills. Royal Life Saving continues to urge parents to ensure that their children participate in programs such as Swim and Survive, to build vital water safety skills to prevent drowning and promote lifelong safe aquatic activity.

One quarter (25%) of all people who drowned were known to have a pre-existing medical condition, most commonly cardiovascular disease. Being aware of medical conditions is important, as they can impact on fitness and ability in the water. Royal Life Saving recommends that people aged 55 years and over undergo regular medical check-ups, allowing early detection of chronic disease, as well as appropriate monitoring and treatment.

Alcohol consumption was also a risk factor for drowning, with 15% of people found to have a positive reading for alcohol in their bloodstream at the time of drowning. Royal Life Saving highlights alcohol can impair judgment and coordination, slow reaction times and increase risk taking behaviour. Of those who had consumed alcohol, 40% recorded a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) that was four times the legal limit (0.2mg/L) or higher.

This year, 25 overseas tourists drowned. Almost half (44%) of these visitors were from Asian countries, with most incidents occurring away from patrolled areas on beaches, in resort swimming pools and rivers, whilst swimming or diving. Royal Life Saving advises tour operators and international student education services to ensure that they factor in water safety when planning tourist activities anywhere near the water.

Drowning occurred all year round but peaked in January during warmer weather. More deaths were recorded on Sundays than any other day of the week, with almost half (45%) of all drowning deaths occurring in the afternoon between midday and 6pm.

The 2016 Report is the 22nd National Drowning Report to be released by Royal Life Saving Society - Australia.

The Report follows the release of the Australian Water Safety Strategy 2016-2020 in April this year. The Strategy identifies high risk age groups, locations and challenges. “By targeting areas of high concern, leading water safety organisations are able to focus resources where they are most needed and work together to create effective drowning prevention strategies”, says Justin Scarr.

To view the report in full please click here.

Key drowning facts

  • 280 people drowned in Australian waterways between 1 July 2015 and 30 June 2016
  • This is a 5% increase on the 267 drowning deaths recorded in 2014/15
  • 83% of all drowning deaths were male
  • 21 (8%) drowning deaths occurred in children aged 0-4 years
  • 11 (4%) drowning deaths occurred in children aged 5-14 years
  • 52 (19%) drowning deaths occurred in people aged 25-34 years
  • 58 (21%) drowning deaths occurred in people aged 65 years and over
  • 63 (23%) drowning deaths occurred at beaches
  • 58 (21%) drowning deaths occurred at rivers, creeks and streams
  • 53 (19%) drowning deaths occurred in ocean / harbour locations
  • 74 (26%) people were swimming and recreating immediately prior to drowning
  • 46 (16%) people were boating immediately prior to drowning
  • 39 (14%) people drowned as a result of falls into water

State and Territory breakdown

  • 96 (34%) drowning deaths occurred in New South Wales
  • 66 (24%) drowning deaths occurred in Queensland
  • 43 (15%) drowning deaths occurred in Victoria
  • 37 (13%) drowning deaths occurred in Western Australia
  • 14 (5%) drowning deaths occurred in Northern Territory
  • 13 (5%) drowning deaths occurred in South Australia
  • 9 (3%) drowning deaths occurred in Tasmania
  • 2 (1%) drowning deaths occurred in Australian Capital Territory (ACT)

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