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 1,087 people have died from drowning in Australian rivers, creeks and streams in the fifteen years between 1 July 2003 and 30 June 2018. A further estimated 522 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


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


Jason Ballerini learnt dangers of inland waterways firsthand when at age 16, he dived into a local waterway off the Murray River on a hot summer’s day.

“I’d swum there thousands of times. It was the swimming spot every summer. There was a log that stuck out from the bank and overhung the water - that was the diving board. I dived into the water headfirst,” said Jason.

Despite having swum there “thousands of times”, that day the sandbank had shifted and Jason dived from the metre high log into 50cm of water.

In an instant Jason became a C5 quadriplegic and lay underwater unable to move.

Fortunately Jason was pulled to the edge of the bank and resuscitated, however Jason is now unable to walk or stand, and has no feeling from the chest down.

Jason is urging Australians not to be complacent around water.

Respect the River - Jason Case Study