Key Facts 

Royal Life Saving found between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2012:

  • 1,072 people aged 50+ drowned in Australian waterways.
  • 75% were males.
  • Alcohol was known to be involved in 37% of drowning deaths.
  • Underlying medical conditions were known to be present in 68% of people aged 65+. Common medical conditions included cardiac conditions, epilepsy and dementia.
  • New South Wales recorded 40% (425) of all drowning deaths.
  • The Northern Territory recorded the highest rate of drowning per 100,000 population with a rate of 4.56 compared to the National average of 1.63.
  • Over one third (35%) of all drowning deaths in people aged 50 and over during the study period took place in inland waterways (rivers, creeks, lakes and dams).
  • A further one fifth (20%) occurred in ocean / harbour locations.
  • Accidents involving watercraft were the leading activity prior to drowning among older people accounting for 22% of all drowning deaths.
  • Accidental falls into water accounted for a further 18% of drowning deaths among older people.

Report Recommendations

This report makes the following recommendations designed to reduce drowning deaths in people aged 50 years and over in Australia:

  • Create, implement and evaluate a national public awareness campaign targeting known drowning hazards and risks for older people. The awareness campaign could target the role of underlying medical conditions in drowning, high risk activities for older people and strategies to reduce these risks or the role of alcohol and drugs in drowning.
  • Encourage participation in aquatic activity as a way of providing older people with water safety skills while at the same time improving their health and well-being in a low impact setting.
  • Continue to work with the National Coronial Information System (NCIS), State and Territory Coronial Offices and police to improve data collection on drowning deaths for the purposes of enhancing our understanding of factors influencing drowning deaths in those aged 50 years and over.
  • Explore the presence and impact of underlying medical conditions on drowning in older people.
  • Create and implement interventions targeting older people and specially males and the use of watercraft.
  • Further investigate the burden of males in younger age groups (50-59 years old), including levels of physical activity, risk taking behaviours.
  • Further investigate the role of alcohol in drowning, including social and cultural factors.
  • Further investigate the role of employment status on drowning deaths in older people, and explore aquatic recreation patterns whilst employed compared to in retirement.

Report Download

Click here to download a full copy of the Report - Drowning Deaths in Older People: A 10 year analysis of drowning in people aged 50 years and over in Australia.

Royal Life Saving Older People Report Royal Life Saving Older People - Infographic