Summer is here!

Unfortunately there have already been a number of fatal drowning events across NSW. Royal Life Saving NSW has therefore launched a range of campaigns earlier than scheduled to ensure communities are aware of the dangers and risks aquatic environments possess. Some of these campaigns are detailed in this newsletter.

It is vitally important that we understand our limitations when visiting aquatic environments. In the last 12 months more people drowned in rivers than any other waterway. It is therefore important to adopt the following tips when around our river systems.

River Safety Tips


1. Never Swim Alone

It is important to take care when walking on slippery or uneven surfaces around or in water. Conditions should be checked before entering the water slowly, feet first. Avoid submerged obstacles, such as tree branches and rocks.

2. Avoid Alcohol around water

Alcohol often contributes to drownings. It impairs judgement, encourages greater risk taking behavior, reduces coordination, impairs reaction time and reduces the effectiveness of CPR, should someone require it. On average, approximately 25% of adult drownings deaths each year involve alcohol, with 44% of these occurring near rivers, creeks and streams. A further 9% of these occur in lakes, dams and lagoons.

3. Wear a lifejacket

Watercraft related drownings can occur if people do not wear lifejackets, consume alcohol and fall overboard, are not prepared for changing weather conditions, collisions occur or their vessels are not seaworthy. On average, 51 people a year drown while using watercraft. After oceans and harbours, rivers, creeks and streams are the second most common location for watercraft related drownings to occur with an average of 11 drownings per year. 

4. Learning lifesaving skills

Gain the knowledge and skills to administer first aid until medical help arrives. Anyone at any time may need to give urgent assistance and a Royal Life Saving First Aid and / or Resuscitation Course will equip you with the necessary skills. 

More information on our active campaigns can be accessed from our website



Michael Ilinsky
Chief Executive Officer
These reports can be found at: 


Visit for campaign videos and further information.

In the past decade, 1,995 men have died in preventable tragedies. Drowning. Two in five men had drugs and/or alcohol in their system.
Men are four times more likely to drown than women, with males accounting for 80% of all drowning deaths.
Royal Life Saving Society NSW, with support of the State Government, have launched a new drowning prevention campaign in time for summer. The campaign is urging men to look out for their mates and stand up to the sorts of risk taking behaviour that can lead to accidents and drowning.
A culture of risk taking behaviour among men can be dangerous around water, and when combined with alcohol and/or drugs it is often fatal.

 Almost a quarter (24%) of male drowning deaths involved alcohol alone. Of the men who had been drinking and subsequently drowned, 67% would have failed a random breath test with a recorded a blood alcohol content above 0.05.

Be like Dave

Dave is the face of the 'Don't Let Your Mates Drink and Drown' campaign. He's an all-round top bloke who looks out for his mates by not letting them make stupid decisions.
Be like Dave. Look out for your mates.
Dave's Tips For Looking Out For Your Mates:
  • Stand up to your mates if they suggest swimming or taking out a boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • "Woah, easy there. Where do you think you're going? Not in your state mate." 
  • Suggest alternative activities away from the water when under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • - Challenge your mates to a round of ping pong, watch your favourite sport on the tele, or take a good ol' nap.
  • Enjoying the water before any drugs alcohol consumed
  • Not leaving them alone if they’re under the influence around water

Key Facts

  • 1,995 men aged 15 years and over have fatally drowned between 1 July 2007 and 30 June 2017
    • 464 cases were known to involve alcohol (24%)
    • 436 cases were known to involve drugs (22%)
    • 726 cases were known to involve alcohol and/or drugs (37%)
  • Men aged 25-34 account for 19% of all male drowning deaths.
  • 46% of men aged 25-34 years who drowned were known to involve alcohol and/or drugs (166 deaths out of 361)
  • 47% of male drowning deaths in rivers, creeks and streams were known to involve alcohol and/or drugs (261 deaths out of 556)


Visit for campaign videos and further information.

Royal Life Saving is urging parents not to be complacent about their child’s safety around water.
Royal Life Saving research shows that 461 children under the age of five died due to drowning in Australia over the past 15 years, an average of 31 per year. Of these, half were in home pools and spas.

Active adult supervision had either lapsed or was entirely absent in all cases.
For every toddler drowning death approximately ten children are admitted to hospital as a result of non-fatal drowning. Although they survive, many suffer lifelong consequences.

Royal Life Saving is launching a new awareness campaign urging parents and carers to Keep Watch of children around water no matter what.

Water is only safe while you’re watching. Distractions like answering the phone, attending to another child, or ducking inside to grab something can have tragic consequences if a toddler is left unattended by water.

Actively supervise children around water, check your pool fence and gate, and never prop the pool gate open. Swimming lessons are great, but they are no substitute for active supervision and a pool fence in good working order.

Between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2017, 461 children aged 0-4 years drowned in Australia. Of these, 231 (50%) occurred in home swimming pools (including backyard swimming pools, portable pools and outdoor spas).

In 100% of child drowning cases in home swimming pools, active adult supervision had either lapsed or was entirely absent.

As part of the new backyard pool safety campaign, Royal Life Saving are warning parents that water is only safe when you’re watching as a measure to ensure that parents are not complacent about backyard pool safety this summer.

Australians are comfortable around water. Many have grown up swimming in the backyard pool, going to the beach, playing with the garden sprinkler, or paddling down the river. This familiarity means that parents can, let their guard down, even if just for a moment, complacency can lead to disaster.

Active adult supervision is key to preventing children drowning in backyard swimming pools. Regularly check your pool fence and gate, and never propping the pool gate open.

A NSW study of child drowning deaths in home swimming pools over the last 15 years showed that in62% of cases, the child gained access to the pool area through a faulty fence or gate, or a gate which had been deliberately propped open, allowing the child to enter the pool area unaccompanied.

For every toddler drowning death approximately ten children are admitted to hospital as a result of non-fatal drowning.

Michael and Jo-ann Morris know the tragedy that can come from a faulty pool fence. Their two year old son, Samuel slipped through a broken pool fence panel while his mother was doing the washing.
Jo-ann found Samuel in the pool, and gave her son CPR with the support of neighbours and emergency services. Samuel survived the tragic accident but sustained a severe brain injury, requiring long-term medical care. After a brave eight year battle, Samuel passed away in 2014 as a result of his injury.

Almost half (46%) of toddler drowning deaths in home pools occurred in summer, and one fifth (21%) occurred on a Sunday.

Most parents take precautions when it comes to their child’s safety around water. The fact is life gets busy and is full of distractions, and it only takes a fleeting moment for an unsupervised child to access the pool and drown.

It’s common at this time of year to have family gatherings and backyard BBQs with friends, which brings with additional distractions into the home. Have a designated supervisor for children, and don’t leave children in the care of older siblings.

The campaign is the latest initiative of Royal Life Saving’s Keep Watch program which has actively been working for over 20 years to prevent toddler drowning deaths.
As part of the campaign, Royal Life Saving, have released a series of community service announcements on television and radio, developed a targeted social media activation, and engaged influential parental media outlets in efforts to ensure parents get the keep watch message in time for summer.

The four Keep Watch messages are; constant adult supervision, restrict access to water, teach children water safety, learn how to resuscitate, and above all, always keep watch.

The Keep Watch campaign is supported in New South Wales by the New South Wales Government.


The newly released Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 shows 291 people died as a result of drowning in Australia in the 2016/17 financial year. This is a 3% increase on the 282 drowning deaths in 2015/16.

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 was launched by the Hon. Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health, Minister for Sport at Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday 12th September.

The 2017 report is the first to examine the impact of both fatal and non-fatal drowning. Royal Life Saving estimates that there were an additional 685 non-fatal drowning incidents requiring hospitalisation in 2016/17. Many of these people will require long term medical assistance.

The nation’s inland waterways continue to be the leading location for fatal drowning, accounting for 97 deaths in 2016/17, almost one third of the total. This included 68 at rivers and creeks, and 29 at lakes and dams.

“Australians love the water. It’s an important part of our culture. That’s why the Turnbull Government provides significant funding for water safety education. The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report reveals the sad fact that 291 people drowned last year. This is a sobering reminder to always actively supervise children around water, for people young and old to learn to swim and survive, to increase lifejacket use, reduce alcohol consumption around water and to always Respect the River,” said the Hon Greg Hunt MP, Minister for Health, Minister for Sport.

Drowning in children under five increased last year. Tragically 29 children aged 0-4 years drowned in 2016/17, a 32% increase on the previous year, serving as a sobering reminder to parents and pool owners of the need to constantly Keep Watch around water.

The Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 shows that Australian’s under estimate the dangers of the nation’s waterways, with drowning deaths occurring in inland waterways, along the coast and in swimming pools. Rivers were the leading location for fatal drowning with 68 drowning deaths, followed by beaches (50 deaths), ocean / harbour locations (46 deaths) and swimming pools (44 deaths).
Reducing drowning in adults continues to pose a challenge to water safety organisations. The 25-34 year age group accounted for the highest number of drowning deaths (43 deaths), followed by people aged 45-54 years (40 deaths). Royal Life Saving highlights the importance of safe aquatic behaviors including lifejacket use, reducing alcohol and drug consumption, checking weather forecasts and never swimming or boating alone.

In a result that will surprise many, 36 people 75 years and over died in drowning incidents last year, a 38% increase on the ten year average. Royal Life Saving highlights the need for all senior Australians to be aware of the increased drowning risk associated with pre-existing medical conditions, the impacts of medications and the dangers of swimming alone.

The report found there were 12 drowning deaths in children aged 5-14 years. Drowning in school aged children is the lowest of any age group, but no less tragic. Though many Australian children swim well, we still find too many kids can’t swim at all and have limited water safety knowledge. It’s important that State and Territory Governments, local councils, schools and parents all play their part.

Drowning peaks during the summer months. Last summer was shocking, with drowning deaths in New South Wales four times higher than the average between Christmas and New Year. Analysis highlights the risks of swimming in unpatrolled locations, risk taking by young men, and the need for water safety awareness among high risk populations.

Drowning in overseas tourists often captures much media attention. Last year there were 20 overseas tourists who drowned, predominately from European (45%) and Asian (40%) countries, as well as 6 international students. Reducing drowning in these high risk populations requires an integrated approach, working with universities, local tour operators, national parks and lifeguard services.

Pre-existing medical conditions were found in 47 people. A drowning risk assessment must be part of regular medical check-ups for adults aged 45 years and over, whether or not they are regular water users. Swimming is a great way to stay fit and healthy, but Australians must be encouraged to choose safer places such as public aquatic facilities or patrolled beaches where lifeguards are present.

In 2008 the Australian Water Safety Council set an ambitious goal of reducing drowning by 50% by 2020. Interim analysis shows an overall 24% reduction in fatal drowning despite significant changes in the size and makeup of the Australian population. Reducing drowning by 24% is a significant achievement and means there are 90 people here today who otherwise would have drowned last year. The most pleasing progress has been in reducing drowning in children aged 0-14 years by 36%.

For more information, a range of drowning prevention resources or to download a copy of the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2017 please click here.

Key drowning facts

•    291 people drowned in Australian waterways between 1 July 2016 and 30 June 2017
•    This is a 3% increase on the 282 drowning deaths recorded in 2015/16
•    74% of all drowning deaths were male
•    29 (10%) drowning deaths occurred in children aged 0-4 years
•    12 (4%) drowning deaths occurred in children aged 5-14 years
•    43 (15%) drowning deaths occurred in people aged 25-34 years
•    70 (24%) drowning deaths occurred in people aged 65 years and over
•    68 (23%) drowning deaths occurred at rivers, creeks and streams
•    50 (17%) drowning deaths occurred at beaches
•    46 (16%) drowning deaths occurred in ocean / harbour locations
•    73 (25%) people were swimming and recreating immediately prior to drowning
•    46 (16%) people drowned as a result of a fall into water
•    37 (13%) people were boating immediately prior to drowning
•    93 (32%) drowning deaths occurred in New South Wales


The latest research by Royal Life Saving - Australia, with support from Surf Life Saving Australia and the Australian Government shows that 6,158 people were hospitalised in Australia as a result of a non-fatal drowning incident between 1 July 2002 and 30 June 2015.

The landmark report, titled “A 13 year national study of non-fatal drowning in Australia: Data challenges, hidden impacts and social costs”, identified that non-fatal drowning incidents have increased by 42% since 2002 despite drowning deaths decreasing by 17% over the same period.

The report shows that there is an average of 474 people hospitalised for non-fatal drowning each year. Young children aged 0-4 years accounted for 42% of non-fatal drowning incidents. Among children aged 0-4 years, for every fatal drowning, there were over 7 non-fatal drowning incidents.

Michael Morris knows the devastating impact that non-fatal drowning can have on a family. Mr Morris’ son, Samuel was found on the bottom of their backyard pool when he was two years old. His mother, Jo-ann pulled him from the pool, and with the support of neighbours and emergency services, Samuel survived the tragic accident. However, Samuel sustained a severe brain injury. After a brave eight year battle, Samuel passed away in 2014 as a result of his injury.

"Having a child experience the devastation of a brain injury as a result of a non-fatal drowning has an ongoing and lasting impact on the whole family. We essentially lost our little boy twice, firstly the bright and happy little boy he was before his accident and then finally when he died after almost eight years of continuous suffering. Hospital became our home away from home, as we dealt with the many complications of Samuel's brain injury and associated disabilities. For too long children like Samuel and families like ours have been the forgotten and invisible part of the drowning problem," said Mr Morris.

In 2007 Michael and Jo-ann Morris established the Samuel Morris Foundation, which provides support services to children and their families who are disabled as a result of a non-fatal drowning or other hypoxic brain injuries.

The report estimates that the total economic cost of non-fatal drowning averages $188 million per year, including the direct harm from long term disability caused by non-fatal drowning, as well as health care costs, long term care costs and lost economic productivity.

The report suggests that the 5% of incidents leading to long term disability generate 88% of the total costs of non-fatal drowning, with each incident leading to average costs of $6.91 million.

More than a third of non-fatal incidents occurred in swimming pools (36%), including both home swimming pools and public swimming pools. For every drowning death in a swimming pool, there were 4 non-fatal incidents.

Non-fatal drowning is often reported incorrectly as ‘near-drowning’. This term has been replaced by the World Health Organization. Drowning has three outcomes; fatal, non-fatal drowning where the incident has long term effects, or non-fatal drowning with no long term effects.

The authors were assisted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare who provided non-fatal drowning data from the National Hospital Morbidity Database.

For more information, a range of drowning prevention resources or to download a copy of the Non-Fatal Drowning Report please visit the Royal Life Saving website at

Royal Life Saving Society - New South Wales
34/10 Gladstone Road, Castle Hill NSW 2154
PO Box 8307, Baulkham Hills BC NSW 2153
T 02 9634 3700
F 02 9634 8529

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Royal Life Saving Society NSW Branch · PO Box 8307 · Baulkham Hills BC, NSW 2153 · Australia

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