Victorian drownings reach 20-year high, including 70pc increase among older people

safety at the beachThe number of people drowning in Victoria has hit a 20-year high, sparking a new water safety campaign using drones and an enhanced jet ski lifeguard patrol service. Life Saving Victoria’s Drowning Report showed 56 people drowned in 2018-19 — the worst drowning toll for the state in two decades. One quarter of these were new arrivals, immigrants and refugees.

The report showed adults were drowning in increasing numbers with a 71 per cent increase in the drowning rate for people aged 65 and over last year compared to the 10-year average.

Adults aged 45-64 had the second-highest drowning rate of all groups.

The report also revealed:

  • Almost half (46 per cent) of the drowning deaths last year occurred in summer and two-thirds over summer and autumn.
  • Men represented four out of five drowning deaths in Victoria.
  • A 49 per cent increase in drowning deaths in Victorian inland waterways and a 46 per cent increase for Victorian coastal waterways.
  • 18 per cent of drowning deaths were of people from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

Those who are not swimming but are around water are at risk, with a 68 per cent increase in those walking or playing near the water just before drowning compared to the 10-year average.


Photo: The report found people aged 65 years and over were the most common age group for fatal drownings.
Photo: The report found people aged 65 years and over were the most common age group for fatal drownings. (ABC News: Kate Matthews )

Life Saving Victoria research associate Bernadette Matthews said the report highlighted an alarming increase in the state’s drowning rate.

“Last year there were 17 more deaths than the 10-year average, or a 29 per cent increase in the fatal drowning rate,” Dr Matthews said.

“Figures like this are even more heartbreaking because we know, through campaigns like Play it Safe by the Water, that drowning deaths are entirely preventable and simple safety measures can make all the difference between a great day out and a tragedy.”

Dr Matthews said it was concerning to see an increase in drowning deaths among people who were not swimming.

“Unintentional entry into water — via slips, trips and falls — was the most common activity just prior to drowning last year.”

Water safety issues for men aged 45-64 included a lack of awareness of open water hazards, a lack of preparedness for conditions or a change in conditions and being unprepared before participating in higher risk water activities.

Life Saving Victoria will use monitoring drones and a bigger jet ski lifeguard patrol service to address the increase in drownings.

Victorian Water Safety Week starts today and will include water safety and drowning prevention activities and events around the state from December 2 to 8.

A State Government Water Safety Strategy will also launch next year.


safety at the beach
Photo: People living in regional areas were almost twice as likely to drown compared to those in metropolitan Melbourne.

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