The Summer Drowning Toll

Victoria is experiencing the highest summer drowning toll since 1997/8, the shocking summer of drowning deaths that stimulated changes to Victoria’s drowning prevention efforts and marked the start of the Play it Safe by the Water campaign.

Twenty-three people have drowned in Victorian waterways since 1 December 2018 (to 18th February 2019) representing 11 more deaths than the ten-year average and nine more than the five-year average.

“This is a tragic result. Despite the best efforts of surveillance, patrols, education and public messaging, not all of our messages are getting through,” says Life Saving Victoria Principal Research Associate Dr Bernadette Matthews.

“Most of the drownings over the summer have been at open waterways, either inland or along the coast. All of the drownings that occurred at beaches were at locations that were unpatrolled at the time.”

“It is imperative that people take personal responsibility for their safety, by being prepared for and aware of the conditions they are entering into and by factoring in their swimming ability when entering waterways. Conditions can also change very quickly and catch you off-guard.”

Lifesavers prepare for patrol

“If you are unsure of how to prepare, or your own abilities, please swim between the red and yellow flags at a patrolled location where the lifesavers are there to help you if you get into difficulty,” says Bernadette.

“If you’re visiting an inland waterway, check your surroundings, read the signs and check-in with someone like a park ranger or local who can pass on local knowledge.”

This safety plea comes after LSV extended lifeguard services at 15 key locations across Victoria this summer to combat the rising toll and keep beach-goers safe.

Employed Lifeguards conducted 152 rescues, applied 1,234 first aid treatments and implemented 61,209 preventive actions during their 414 hours on duty in the main summer season from Boxing Day until 3 February.

Victoria’s dedicated 8,000 volunteer lifesavers are continuing to patrol 57 locations on weekends and public holidays until Easter 2019. Since the start of the season in November last year, lifesavers have conducted 264 rescues, applied 1,207 first aid treatments and implemented 40,834 preventive actions.

Lifesavers attend to a first aid case

“If you want to enjoy Victoria’s beautiful waterways, there a multitude of places you can do so safely,” says Bernadette.

To find out which locations are patrolled, and at what time, visit or download the free app. If you’re making a trip to the beach, check and monitor the Bureau of Meteorology weather forecast and VicEmergency app.

28 people drowned during the 1997/8 summer, shocking the public and bringing industry and government together to create the Play It Safe By The Water (PISBTW) campaign, to address the rising toll.

Twenty years of water safety education and awareness by the PISBTW foundation has seen a 46 per cent lowering of the drowning toll. You can find out more about the PISBTW campaign and its history here.

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