January 18, 2022

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Life Saving Victoria’s drowning report reveals tragedies behind highest drowning toll in 20 years

Life Saving Victoria

Life Saving Victoria released the 2020 – 21 Victorian Drowning Report; industry leading research exploring the staggering increase in drowning figures during the past financial year.

The alarming report reveals the tragic circumstances behind Victoria’s highest drowning toll in 20 years, noting that young children and men were overrepresented in drownings, and that 48 per cent of people drowned within their residential postcode.

Life Saving Victoria is honouring the 61 people who lost their lives to drowning and whose stories make up the report, including two-year-old Hunter Boyle, with a temporary memorial of 61 rescue tubes erected at Sandridge Beach Life Saving Victoria’s general manager health promotion and communications Dr Bernadette Matthews said that it’s
vital Victorians remember that the numbers represent real people who are tragically no longer here.

“While anyone can drown, no one should. Life Saving Victoria is urging the community not to become complacent,
and to remember that these are more than just numbers, they are people,” Dr Matthews said.

“Our intention in compiling this drowning report is to ensure that part of their legacy lives on to help prevent future drownings in Victorian waters. By examining areas of risk, we can help to inform our safety strategies and hopefully prevent further tragedy moving forward.

“Life Saving Victoria has been working closely with government, the water safety sector and the aquatic industry to address a number of preventative measures, in a bid to stop people from requiring assistance in the first place.”

Devastatingly, a quarter of the drowning deaths were children aged between zero and 14 years old. “It is even more heart-wrenching to highlight that of these fatalities, 15 involved children aged 0 – 14 years, equating to a quarter of all drownings and accounting for the highest age-specific fatal drowning rate this year,” Dr Matthews said.

Ash Napolitano, mother of Hunter Boyle who was just two years-old when he drowned at the dam on his grandfather’s property, knows firsthand the heartache that comes when a child is lost to drowning and is urging all parents and carers to know the risks.

“I can’t describe the pain that comes with losing our boy, even after a year, it never gets easier,” Ms Napolitano said.
“It’s surreal to think that he is one of the numbers in this report, because he was and is so much more than that.

“I can’t tell other parents or carers strongly enough, sometimes you can do everything to teach about being safe and it just takes that split second.

“It has been incredibly overwhelming, but I’ve tried to channel some of this grief into positive change, by setting up the Hunter Boyle Children’s Swim Program with the support of Kidsafe Victoria. Piloted in our hometown of Shepparton, our aim is to fund 12 months’ worth of swimming lessons and water safety education to vulnerable children between the ages of 6 months – 12 years.

We know we can educate our most vulnerable little people about the dangers of water and support them to learn a life skill,” Ms Napolitano said.

Life Saving Victoria’s message to all Victorians ahead of summer is to remember the reason you want to get back out of the water safely, and to keep kids away from danger.

“Do not become a memory, please remember that a moment of distraction can lead to a lifetime of heartbreak,” Dr Matthews said.

“Actively supervise children around water in the home and when at the beach, river or pool. Stay safe by learning swimming, water safety and lifesaving skills, always seek out patrolled beaches and swim between the red and yellow flags.

If boating or rock fishing, wear safety gear such as a fully-functioning, approved life jacket and gripped shoes, and remember that drugs and alcohol don’t mix with water.”

Life Saving Victoria kicked off an extended lifesaving patrol season on Saturday 27 November, supported by the Victorian Government’s largest ever investment in water safety. To find patrolled locations this summer visit beachsafe.org.au

Key statistics from the Life Saving Victoria drowning report 2020 – 2021

• There was a 40% increase in the fatal drowning rate per 100,000 persons compared to the 10- year average.

• 104 non-fatal incidents – crude drowning rate of 1.55 per 100,000 persons and 13% increase on the 10-year average.

• In 2020-21, 15 children aged 0-14 years old drowned – equating to 25% of all drownings for this period. This is a large increase from the 10-year average (2010/11 – 2019/20) of 4 drownings per year in this age group (5% of all drownings), and the most drownings in this age group in over twenty years.

• Children aged 0-4 years had the highest age-specific fatal drowning rate in 2020/21.

• In 38% of the 2020/21 drownings, the person was walking, recreating or playing near water –more than double the 10-year average for this activity

• Location:

o There was a 27% increase in the number of coastal drowning deaths and 56% increase in number of drowning deaths in inland waterways, compared to the 10-year average (2010/11 – 2019/20) for Victoria.

o There was a 90% increase in drowning deaths in private/home swimming pools and 61% increase in drowning deaths in bathtubs compared to the 10-year average (2010/11 – 2019/20) for Victoria.


o People who live in regional Victoria are almost twice as likely to drown than those who live in metropolitan areas.


o 48% of people drowned at a waterway within their residential postcode


• Gender:

o 22 females drowned in 2020-21, an increase of 13 from the 10-year average (2010/11 –2019/20) for Victoria.

o Males aged 25-44 were again overrepresented in the drowning statistics, recording the highest number of fatal drownings in 2020-21 and equating to 20% of all fatal drownings this year.

• Background:

o 35% of people that drowned over the past 10 years were from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

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