Royal Life Saving new campaign

Swimming spot at the Never Never Creek Bellingen. Photo Sheriden Rhodes
Swimming spot at the Never Never Creek Bellingen. Photo Sheriden Rhodes

Australians are being bluntly warned that rivers, creeks and streams have now become the leading location for drowning in Australia and many people underestimate the dangers.

Significantly, 74 per cent of all drowning deaths in rivers were locals who drowned within 100 kilometres of where they live. 

Royal Life Saving research reveals that 1,113 people have drowned in Australian rivers, creeks and streams over the past 15 years.  

Men are at most risk, drowning at a rate that is four times that of women (81 per cent of all drowning deaths in rivers).

Alarmingly, of the men who drowned, more than half (51 per cent) had a contributory level of drugs or alcohol in their system.

Almost one third of all drowning deaths in rivers nationally occurred among those aged 25-44 years.

Royal Life Saving, with the support of the Federal Government, is addressing these tragic statistics through the roll out of the a national drowning prevention and public awareness campaign called "Respect the River".

 “Men are prone to taking unnecessary risks and over-estimating their abilities, but with the changeable conditions in rivers, this can and does put their life in danger,” Royal Life Saving Society – Australia CEO Justin Scarr said.

“We are asking people to follow four simple steps to reduce their drowning risk in rivers: wear a lifejacket, avoid alcohol and drugs around water, never swim alone and learn how to save a life. It’s simple, Respect the River.” 

It is often incorrectly assumed that tourists account for the majority of drowning deaths, however, Royal Life Saving research reveals that 74 per cent of people who drowned in the country’s rivers were locals to the area.

“Conditions in rivers can change rapidly. Just because you might regularly visit an area, doesn’t mean the environment will be the same the next time you go,” Justin said.

“Rivers can be very hazardous environments. Often you cannot see ice cold water, rocks, snags like tree branches or strong currents.”

A joint study undertaken by Royal Life Saving and James Cook University, examined 10 years of fatal river drowning in Australia.

The study, published in the PLoSONE journal, identified key at risk groups and behaviours in order to aid prevention efforts.

It found that males when compared to females were three times as likely to drown in a river due to a boating or watercraft related incident and four times as likely to drown as a result of jumping (commonly from bridges and trees whilst engaging in risk taking behaviour).

The lack of lifejackets being used in inland waterways is concerning. Of those that drowned when using boats and watercraft, only five per cent were found to be wearing a lifejacket.