National Drowning and National Coastal Safety reports reveal common trends

Australia’s peak water safety bodies Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA) and Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) have released their respective National Drowning Report and National Coastal Safety Report for 2021. 

Both reports found that drowning in Australia, in both inland waterways and by the coast, have increased, with a total of 294 people tragically losing their lives in Australian waterways during 2020-21. 

This represented a 20 per cent increase compared with 2019-20, when there were 245 deaths by drowning.  

Of Australia’s 294 drowning deaths, 61 occurred in Victoria: representing the highest number of Victorian drowning incidents in two decades. 

Life Saving Victoria (LSV) manager research and evaluation Dr Hannah Calverley said the national key findings were similar to the factors in Victoria’s heightened drowning toll. 

“RLSSA and SLSA’s research found that Australians have been more likely to swim in unfamiliar locations, face increased drowning risk around the home and have experienced interruptions to regular swimming and swimming lessons during COVID-19 lockdowns,” Dr Calverley said. 

“These trends were also seen in Victoria, where children missed an estimated 5 million swimming lessons due to lockdowns throughout 2020, which could lead to a lack of confidence and familiarity in the water. 

“This, paired with people seeking more remote swimming locations to escape crowds, complacency around water, and spending more time in and around the home, are all considered key risk factors for drowning.” 

RLSSA and SLSA have made a range of recommendations to launch strategies ahead of this summer, to try to reverse the unacceptable trend of the high drowning rate. 

These strategies include: commencing public water safety, child supervision, and pool fencing and gate maintenance campaigns earlier in line with restrictions easing Australia-wide; urgently prioritising learn to swim programs when pools reopen; reminding Australians to swim between the red and yellow flags at a patrolled beach wherever possible; and, putting mobile emergency lifesaving services in place. 

“We strongly recommend guardians of young children continue children’s water safety education while pools are closed using our Water Safety @ Home resources available online – no pool or bath required – and ensure they are actively supervising children around water,” Dr Calverley said. 

“For those looking forward to getting into the water, make safety your priority, plan your day by a waterway by checking the conditions before and during your outing, and wherever possible, swim at patrolled locations during patrolled times, where someone can keep an eye on you and assist should you find yourself in trouble.”  

To view the full National Drowning Report visit royallifesaving.com.au and the National Coastal Safety Report at sls.com.au 

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