Saving Lives in Australian rivers

When enjoying inland waterways it’s important to be aware of the risks and stay safe. Whether you’re swimming, boating, or even just relaxing on the bank, there are many hidden dangers that you may not be aware of.

Royal Life Saving research reveals that 1,145 people have died from drowning in Australian rivers, creeks and streams in the fifteen years between 1 July 2004 and 30 June 2019. A further estimated 550 people were hospitalised for a non-fatal drowning incident, many with a permanent disability.

Royal Life Saving, with the support of the Federal Government is addressing these tragic statistic by educating the public about inland waterway safety through the “Respect the River” project.

Australia has many beautiful inland waterways including rivers, lakes, dams, lagoons, channels, and creeks, however they can pose safety risks.

The flat, still surface of an inland waterway can give a false sense of security. Currents, undertows or submerged objects – even in seemingly tranquil waterways – can prove to be very dangerous.

It’s important to be aware of the dangers and always take care around water. Remember that water conditions which may have been suitable one day can change hourly with the current.

Inland waterways are not patrolled by lifeguards, and should someone get into trouble, there may be no one there to assist.

Royal Life Saving has a series of information, research, and resources about water safety in a range of inland waterways.


  • Currents and fast-flowing water
  • Submerged objects such as rocks, and tree branches
  • Slippery banks and uneven surfaces
  • Changing seasonal patterns and floodwater
  • Cold water – water temperatures in rivers, lakes and dams can drop to freezing levels in winter and cause cold water shock if you fall in
  • Inland waterways are not patrolled by lifeguards, and should someone get into trouble, there may be no one there to assist.


When enjoying our rivers please follow these safety tips:

  • Never swim alone
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol around water
  • Wear a lifejacket
  • Check the current by throwing a leaf into the water to see the speed it travels
  • If you are caught in a current, float on your back feet first, and go with the current. Don’t panic
  • Check the depth of the water and look for submerged objects by using a stick
  • Don’t jump or dive into the water
  • Enter water slowly and feet first
  • Take care of slippery or uneven surfaces around or in the water
  • Actively supervise children around water
  • Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back
  • When on a large property, create a “child safe area” to isolate children from water sources
  • Take a phone with you
  • Learn lifesaving skills

Take Care on Holidays

Australians are 1.73 times more likely to drown on a public holiday compared with any other day. Drowning is known to peak at certain times during the year. For example during Summer and Weekends (1st December to 28th February).

Learn how to stay safe by accessing inland waterway safety information and resources below.

Royal Life Saving Research - Public Holidays


Between 1 July 2004 – 30 June 2019 (15 year period)

1. Murray River (74 deaths)

2. Brisbane River, QLD (41 deaths)

3. Yarra River, VIC (38 deaths)

=4 Hawkesbury River, NSW (23 deaths)

=4 Murrumbidgee River, NSW (23 deaths)

=4 Swan River, WA (23 deaths)

7. Parramatta River, NSW (18 deaths)

8. Georges River, NSW (15 deaths)

=9 Nepean River, NSW (13 deaths)

=9 Tweed River, NSW/QLD (13 deaths)


The Respect the River Project is working across Australia to prevent drowning and promote safe Aquatic Recreation in Australian Inland Waterways. Royal Life Saving currently has projects operating in all Australian States and Territories.

Key activities in the community include:

  • Engaging with local stakeholders to develop drowning prevention strategies
  • Delivering swimming and water safety programs in key communities
  • Conducting risk assessments of river blackspots and developing a targeted action plan
  • Participating in local events to educate the community
Respect the River