Staying safe by the waterside

Ron and Viv Moon — 8 November 2016

Mucking around in and near the water is what we Aussies reckon makes a great summer holiday, and it is! In fact, it’s almost a rite of passage for every young Aussie kid to grow up with sand between their toes and hair bleached from time spent in the surf. Whether we’ve taken the kids down to the local beach or driven a rough 4WD track to find a secret fishing or surfing spot, it is all part of the magic of summer.

But you need to take care. The statistics on how many people drown in Australia are pretty horrifying, with the average number of deaths due to drowning over the last 10 years being 282 people a year For the last year to June 30th, it was 280; two better than the average but still bloody horrifying, I reckon.

While 23 per cent of fatalities (63 deaths) were on our delightful beaches, there were 58 deaths in our rivers. New South Wales counted for 96 deaths followed by Queensland with 66. The Northern Territory recorded 14 deaths but, given the low population, its takes the record for having the most deaths per 100,000 people.

Males accounted for a much higher proportion of the deaths, logging 83 per cent of the deaths this year, and in past years, grog was involved in more than 30 per cent of cases.

There were 75 drowning deaths in our inland rivers, creeks, lakes and dams during the preceding 12 months with swimming being the major activity undertaken at the time. While the Murray tops the list of our killer streams, the Brisbane River, the Yarra, the Swan and the Hawkesbury are next in line, which stands to reason, as they are in our major cities.

Boating was the leading activity being undertaken by those who died in an ocean or harbour environment, while 28 per cent were involved with scuba diving or snorkelling. That should make you think about how prepared you are and what safety gear do you carry and wear when boating or diving.

All these figures come from the latest Royal Life Saving (RLS) report on drownings in Australian waters.

Young kids under five figured highly in the stats with 21 deaths, and most of these occurred after a young kid had fallen into a swimming pool. Oldies over 65 (that’s my age group!) recorded a staggering 58 deaths (46 were male) with 26 per cent of those occurring while boating and 26 per cent occurring in a river, stream or dam.


Previous reports have also indicated the dangers of floodwaters and this year was the same. In the 10 years between 2002 and 2012, there were 130 drowning deaths as a result of floods. Now here’s a sobering thought for all of us drivers: more than half of these deaths were due to cars being driven through floodwaters. Think about that the next time you come to a flooded creek or road.

Areas deemed remote or very remote, essentially anywhere away from a town and medical help, claimed 13 per cent of the deaths from drowning. That’s pretty high when you consider it is the part of Australia where we 4WDers tend to go for our recreation. 

So how do we improve those figures and save people from drowning?

The major points the RLS promotes at the end of the report are to wear a lifejacket whenever you are on the water, supervise children around water, learn CPR and first aid and don’t drink alcohol when swimming or boating. Pretty simple really!

CPR and first-aid courses are run throughout Australia by the Red Cross and St John Ambulance, as well as many private providers across the country. Even if you’ve done a course in the past, it would pay to do a refresher as some of the first-aid methods have changed in recent years. As they often say, the life you save could be your wife, mother or daughter, father, son  or brother.  Even a total stranger would be eternally grateful.

Please stay – and play – safe this summer!


water safety Safety 2016 Adventure 4WD Vehicle