Surge in inland drownings coincides with end of drought

The end of the drought coincided with an increase in drownings in inland waterways, as Victorians flocked to swim in replenished lakes and rivers.

The Life Saving Victoria drowning report, released this Tuesday morning, shows 20 of the 37 people who drowned in the year to June 30, 2012 were swimming in inland waterways – a 45 per cent increase on the 10-year average for inland drownings.

Research and Injury Prevention manager Dr Bernadette Matthews said it was important the perils of rivers and lakes were not underestimated.

"Inland waterways can look calm but are often very dangerous; there can be strong currents as well as submerged objects that aren't easily visible," Dr Matthews said.

Overall, 10 of those who drowned (27 per cent) had been drinking alcohol before their deaths, and males were four times more likely to drown than females.

"Drinking or taking drugs around water affects your swimming ability and judgment of dangerous situations, increasing your risk of drowning," Dr Matthews said.

"Many drowning deaths are preventable, so we must continue to be vigilant about water safety."

Children aged from zero to 4 and adults aged over 60 still have the highest rate of drownings. But the number of drowning victims aged 15 to 24 increased 15 per cent compared to the 2010-11 financial year report – the only age group to record a rise in deaths.

In the 5 to 14 age-group, the number of deaths between 2006 and June 2011 has increased 78 per cent compared to the average between 2001 and 2006.

The 2011-12 report found that 14 per cent of drownings involved people who were classified as "culturally and linguistically diverse", but that 76 per cent of those who drowned had an unknown cultural background, so the figure could be higher.

"Due to the potential for increased drowning risk for people new to Australia, as well as those with little or no experience with Australian aquatic environments, expansion of work with [cultural and linguistically diverse] communities is needed," the report found.

Most drowning deaths occurred in summer (38 per cent), followed by spring (24 per cent) and winter and autumn (both 19 per cent).

People who drowned were mostly walking or playing near water before they drowned (24 per cent), with 19 per cent swimming, paddling or wading. Four of five boating deaths involved canoes or kayaks.

There was an average of 104 non-fatal drowning incidents (hospitalisations) per year from 2001 to 2011.

The report was launched ahead of Water Safety Week, which starts on Saturday.

The story Surge in inland drownings coincides with end of drought first appeared on The Age.

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