ACT News

Rise in teen deaths blights drownings data

 Drowning deaths rose among 15 to 24-year-olds last  year, but drownings in children under five were their lowest level in nearly two decades. 

More than 260 people drowned in Australia last year, in what has been described as a "moderate but promising" 10 per cent decline on the previous year's figures.

Olympians Cate Campbell and Matt Cowdrey give kids at the Tuggeranong pool a few tips.
Olympians Cate Campbell and Matt Cowdrey give kids at the Tuggeranong pool a few tips. Photo: Rohan Thomson

In the ACT, two people drowned last year and the territory recorded the country's lowest drowning rate. 

Nationally, drowning deaths among people aged 15 to 24 climbed 43 per cent between 2012-13 and last year, when 40 young people died. 

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Men are four times more likely to drown than women, and alcohol continues to be a major factor – it was involved in nearly one in five deaths, according to the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2014, released in Canberra on Tuesday.

Twenty children under five drowned, 11 fewer than the previous year and the lowest since 1995.

Swimming pools continue to pose the highest risk for young children and accounted for 70 per cent of drowning deaths in this age group. Of the children under five who drowned, 85 per cent were after falls into water. 

Royal Life Saving chief executive Justin Scarr was also concerned by figures showing more than a third of drownings occurred in people over 55. 

"For many years, we've been telling parents to supervise their children but now we need to tell parents to supervise their parents," he said. 

"Older people are drowning in a range of recreational activities, but they also need to be increasingly aware of their limitations in terms of physical activity and also the impacts of medication on their ability to swim their way out of trouble."

Mr Scarr said  free lifesaving courses would be available to all secondary school students over the next year. 

"We're hoping to give those vital skills of lifesaving, first aid, CPR and basic rescue into secondary schools and we're hoping this will have some impact on drowning," he said. 

Paralympian Matt Cowdrey and Olympian Cate Campbell were in Canberra for the report launch and hosted a swimming clinic for children at Lakeside Leisure Centre, teaching basic rescue skills and CPR.

The pair said the value of swimming skills could not be underestimated. 

"You just have to look at the statistics to know that 266 [drowning deaths] is too many," Cowdrey said. 

"We're a country surrounded by water, we have inland waterways that are extensive and it just makes sense to have our kids know how to swim." 

Campbell said the report also showed there was a need to reduce drowning deaths of older Australians.  

"It's never too late to learn how to swim. It's not only great fun, but it could save your life or someone else's one day," she said.

Inland waterways, including rivers, lakes and dams, were the worst blackspots for drowning, with swimming pools and beaches the other top drowning locations. 

The report also revealed most drowning deaths occurred in February and in the afternoons between noon and 6pm while Sundays were the most common day of the week for drownings. 

On Tuesday, the Australian government announced $4 million over the next five years to the Royal Life Saving Society Australia to help prevent drowning in inland waterways as part of a $15 million package to cut drowning deaths.

Health Minister Peter Dutton said the number of Australians dying from drowning each year was "completely unacceptable".

"The message is as important for those who live on the coast by the beach as it is for those with swimming pools or those that have dams or lakes on inland properties," Mr Dutton said.