MEDIA RELEASE: 99 lives lost in waterways this summer

Published 1 March 2024

The Royal Life Saving Summer Drowning Toll recorded 99 drowning deaths across Australia between 1 December 2023 and 29 February 2024. Tragically this is a 10% increase on the 90 drowning deaths recorded last summer and 5% increase on the 5-year average of 94 drowning deaths.

We remain ever mindful of the people whose lives have been lost or impacted by drowning, including the many families affected by the loss or long-term injury of a loved one.

The highest number of drowning deaths were recorded in New South Wales (30, a 17% decrease from last summer), Victoria (27, a 23% increase from last summer) and Queensland (22, a 57% increase from last summer).

Males remain over-represented, consistent with annual drowning trends. Over a quarter of all summer drowning deaths were among people aged 55 years and over. Ten children (0 -14 years) drowned this summer, up 66% from the same time last year.

Similar to previous years, drowning deaths most commonly occurred at beaches and rivers/creeks. Compared to last summer, drowning deaths at ocean/harbour locations increased, whereas drowning at swimming pools decreased.

2023/24 Summer drowning trends:

  • 26% of all drowning deaths occurred during the week between Christmas and New Year.
  • 26% of people who drowned were older adults aged 55 years and over.
  • 10% were children aged 0-14 years.
  • 7% were flood-related (Queensland and Victoria).
  • All States/Territories reported an increase in drowning compared to last summer except New South Wales, ACT and SA.
  • 10% were reported as being overseas tourists on holiday in Australia.
  • Many drowning deaths occurred at unpatrolled, isolated locations, including beaches, rivers, lakes and dams.

Sustained patterns of drowning deaths at unpatrolled open water locations including rivers, lakes and at beaches underscore just how important swimming skills are. This summer has again highlighted that children who miss out on lessons, become teenagers and adults at increased risk of drowning.

While the Summer Drowning Toll numbers are helpful for timely tracking of drowning deaths, Royal Life Saving cautions against relying only on data from one summer to make important decisions regarding drowning prevention policy, funding, or programs.

Royal Life Saving Chief Executive Officer Justin Scarr commented, “Action should be guided by long-term patterns, which point to the critical importance of core swimming and water safety skills, lifeguard services and systems, and community-focused drowning prevention efforts.”

Royal Life Saving is advocating for long-term investments to ensure everyone in the community has access to safe places to swim year-around, including at community swimming pools, especially at a time when many pools are closing and community infrastructure is being lost.

Royal Life Saving wants everyone to enjoy the water safely, follow these five safety tips to stay safe:

  • Always supervise children around water
  • Avoid alcohol around water
  • Wear a lifejacket when boating and fishing
  • Know the conditions
  • Avoid going alone

Royal Life Saving Summer Drowning Toll and Report

Royal Life Saving’s Summer Drowning Toll dashboard was updated daily over the summer (1 Dec 2023 to 29 Feb 2024).

Royal Life Saving has produced a Summer Drowning Report as of 29 February 2024. The report includes state breakdowns and comparisons to previous years.The Summer Drowning Toll is available here:

Royal Life Saving Society – Australia’s research, education and advocacy work in drowning prevention and water safety is supported by the Australian Government.

Note for Editors

Note that these are interim numbers, based on what it reported in the media only. We know that around 30 per cent of all drowning deaths go unreported, especially those that occur in the home environment and among older people. Numbers will change with coronial investigations and the official number of summer drowning deaths will be reported in the 2024 National Drowning Report released in September.

For media enquiries, please contact Media Key on 0409 420 112 or 03 9769 6488