Questions have been raised about the effectiveness of water education campaigns around the nation.
Questions have been raised about the effectiveness of water education campaigns around the nation. glenn duffus

Drowning figures bleak, says RLSA

MORE drowning deaths occur in rivers and lakes than at the beach in Australia.

About 60% of drowning deaths occur outside major cities.

The number of children, under five years of age, drowning in bathtubs has jumped by 75% on the five-year average.

Royal Life Saving Australia's latest drowning figures have been described as "bleak" and "disappointing", prompting questions over the effectiveness of water education campaigns around the nation.

The organisation says hundreds of Australians are dying in preventable tragedies or being left with permanent disabilities from non-fatal drowning showing Australia's current systems to reduce drowning are failing.

The RLS drowning report has detailed the ages and locations 284 people drowned in Australian waterways in the year ending June 30, 2012, and found there is just a 1% reduction, three deaths, on the five-year average.

RLS chief Rob Bradley said despite all the attention devoted to preventing children drowning in swimming pools, bathtubs seemed to have slipped under the radar.

He said a third of all deaths in this age group happened in bathtubs or spa baths, but pools continued to account for the largest number of drownings in the age group.

Mr Bradley said the number of males dying continued at a "phenomenal rate" at 82% of Australia's drownings.

He said 98 men aged 18-44 drowned last year - and it was highly likely many of the people in that age group missed out on an adequate water safety education during their younger years.

But, he added, men continued to put themselves at risk by frequently ignoring warnings and putting themselves in dangerous situations.

Mr Bradley said greater awareness about water safety issues among men was desperately needed.

The highest number of drowning deaths occurred in inland waterways (104), accounting for 37% of the total number of drowning deaths.

Mr Bradley said there were "too few resources" devoted to preventing drowning deaths in inland waterways.

He also noted people aged 55 and over had become the biggest age bracket for drowning, claiming 97 lives (34%) in the past 12 months, and urged people to get medical checks before doing aquatic activities or update water skills through a Grey Medallion course.

"The overall drowning toll is unacceptable. We want to see the number of people drowning halved by the year 2020. With these sorts of figures it is hard to see that happening," he said. "It's as if much of the education and awareness has simply fallen on deaf ears.

"Overall there has been absolutely no improvement in drowning in most age groups for five years now.

"In some age groups the drowning toll is still rising. Public awareness of the dangers of water still appears to be very low.

"It's clear that more work needs to be done in reducing drowning in Australia."


  • New South Wales 105
  • Queensland 75
  • Victoria 37
  • Western Australia 29
  • South Australia 14
  • Tasmania 13
  • Northern Territory 10
  • Australian Capital Territory 1


  • 284 people drowned in Australia in 2011-12 financial year
  • 232 males
  • 52 females
  • 21 children aged 0-4 years
  • 13 children aged 5-14 years
  • 45 young people aged 15-24 years
  • 97 people aged 55 years and over
  • 75 in rivers, creeks, steams
  • 55 at beaches
  • 19% while swimming or other recreation
  • 19% using or interacting with water craft
  • 31% occur in summer