Definition of Drowning

Drowning is the experience of respiratory impairment or suffocation, due to submersion in some form of liquid.1

The term “drowning” is sometimes used to describe events that did not result in death.1

Impact of Drowning on Western Australia

Who does it impact?

In Western Australia between 2014 and 2018, there were 211 deaths due to drowning.2

In Western Australia between 2015 and 2019 there were:2

  • 5,729 hospitalisations due to drowning.
  • 60.1% of hospitalisations for drowning were males.
  • people aged 65+ had the highest incidence of drowning.

In Western Australia Aboriginal People make up 3.1% of the population, however between 2011 and 2015 6.9% of drowning hospitalisations were Aboriginal People.2,3

Where does it occur?

In Western Australia between 2015 and 2019, the regions with the largest difference in hospitalisation rates compared to the WA State hospitalisation rate, were the Kimberley (98% higher), Great Southern (41%) and Goldfields (25% higher).2

Impact on health system

In Western Australia in 2019, there were 644 hospitalisations for drowning, consuming an estimated 4,717 bed days at an approximate cost of $7,686,559.2

Determinants of Drowning (Risk / Protective Factors)

Social Determinants

Socioeconomic status
People in areas of lower socioeconomic status are approximately four times as likely to drown than those in areas of higher socioeconomic status, due to less experience with water and less access to water safety education programs.4

Environmental, Community and Organisational Determinants

Fencing and safety barriers
Inadequate fencing and ineffective safety barriers to private swimming pools are a commonly reported factor in drowning in children.4

Behavioural and Individual Determinants

Access to water safety programs and swimming ability
Lack of swimming ability is a key risk factor for drowning.5

Culturally and linguistically diverse populations (CaLD) are over-represented in the Western Australian drowning statistics due to low safety awareness and low participation levels in water safety programs.5

Adult supervision
Lack of adult supervision has been identified as an important determinant of drowning in children.5 This includes parental or carer neglect and a lack of adequate inspection of barriers, i.e. parents and carers thinking the child in their care cannot access the pool.5

Alcohol use
Alcohol use can affect a person’s judgment and swimming ability, making consumption a key determinant for drowning. Alcohol consumption may also have physiological effects while a person is submerged, for example, by increasing hypothermia.5

Effective Interventions

Legislation, Policies, Standards and Codes of Practice

Pool fencing legislation
Through education programs are required to raise public awareness of the legislation that safeguards against drowning in the home.5

Western Australian Example

Current legislation in Western Australia states that all private swimming pools must be installed with a fence restricting children under the age of five from entering the pool area. Doors or windows leading out to the pool area must be self-closing and self-locking.5

Environmental, Community and Organisational Initiatives

Water safety campaigns
Education is also required around the risks of drowning in the home and the importance of secure barriers for toddlers and children and water safety.5

Western Australian Example

Since 2004, Royal Life Saving WA has delivered the “Don’t Drink and Drown” campaign, with the aim of reducing alcohol-related injury around water.5

Western Australian Example

The Multicultural BeachSAFE program run by Surf Life Saving WA aims to develop water skills in culturally and linguistically diverse groups through surfing and beach activities.5

Effective lifeguard patrolling at beaches and popular swimming locations is essential for preventing drowning.5

Western Australian Example

Some community organisations, such as Surf Life Saving WA, provide surveillance, protection, medical assistance and rescue services at all patrolled beaches in Western Australia.5

Group and Individual Initiatives

First aid training
CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and First Aid training courses are provided for all people from beginners through to experts, as well as refresher training courses.6

Western Australian Example

A variety of providers, such as Royal Life Saving WA and Surf Lifesaving WA, offer CPR and First Aid training, both face to face and through online e-learning platforms.5, 6 

Key stakeholders in Western Australia

Other Resources

Royal Life Saving Society Australia, 2020 National Drowning Report

Royal Life Saving Society of WA, 2019 WA Drowning Report

Royal Perth Hospital, Admissions from water-related activities report 2010 to 2019

Royal Perth Hospital, Admissions with Spinal Injuries from water-related activities report 2010 to 2019

Australian Water Safety Council, Australian Water Safety Strategy 2030

WHO, Global report on drowning: preventing a leading killer

WHO, Preventing drowning: an implementation guide

WA Department of Health, Injury Prevention in Western Australia: A Review of Statewide Activity for Selected Injury Areas

Know Injury, 2015 drowning fact sheet (2007 – 2011 data)

Know Injury, ‘Keep Watch’ drowning prevention toolkit

Royal Life Saving Society WA ran a Toddler Drowning Prevention in WA webinar in September 2018, to view the recording of the presentation click the image below.


1 Violence and Injury Prevention: Drowning, (2015) World Health Organization. Retrieved from
2 Data generated using HealthTracks Reporting, by the Epidemiology Branch, WA Department of Health in collaboration with the Cooperative Research Centre for Spatial Information (CRC-SI), March 2021.

3. Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016, ‘Western Australia, People’, viewed 5 September 2017, <>
4 Department of Health, Western Australia. Injury prevention in Western Australia: A review of statewide activity. Perth; Chronic Disease Prevention Directorate, Department of Health. 2015.
5 Don’t Drink and Drown, (2015) Royal Life Saving WA. Retrieved from
6 First Aid Training, (2015) Surf Life Saving WA. Retrieved from

Printable Fact Sheet

Click here to download a printable version of the Drowning Fact sheet