Water-related activities such as swimming and bathing are usually safe, when risks are managed appropriately. However, environmental conditions or accidents can result in submersion injuries or death by drowning. Some submersion injuries can have long-term effects, such as when the brain goes without oxygen for too long.

In 2017–18, 0.1% of hospitalised injury cases and 1.6% of injury deaths were due to drowning and submersion.

Swimming pools were the most common place that drowning and serious submersion injuries occurred and natural bodies of water were the most common places in which drowning deaths occur. Males were almost 3 times as likely to die from drowning as females and children aged under 5 were particularly at risk.

This report summarises key data on unintentional (accidental) drowning and submersion hospitalised injuries and deaths. Intentional injuries and deaths involving drowning and submersion are included under Self-harm injuries and suicide. Accidentally falling overboard from a watercraft is included under Transport injuries.

In 2017–18, drowning and submersion accidents resulted in:

664 hospitalisation cases

2.7 per 100,000 population

208 deaths

0.8 per 100,000 population

This article only includes data on injuries that result in hospital admission or death. If a person dies from an injury after being admitted to hospital, both the hospitalisation and the death is included in this report. For more information see Defining injury hospitalisation cases and injury deaths.

Where do drowning and submersion hospitalised injuries occur?

Table 1 shows the locations where hospitalised drowning and submersion injuries most often take place.

Table 1: Top locations of drowning and submersion injury hospitalisation cases, 2017–18

Location

Number

%

Rate (per 100,000)

Swimming pool (including following a fall into a pool) (W67–68)

197

30

0.8

Natural water (including following a fall into natural water) (W69–70)

181

27

0.7

Bathtub (including following a fall into a bathtub) (W65–66)

33

5

0.1

Other or unspecified (W73–74)

253

38

1.0

Total

664

100

2.7

Notes:

  1. Rates are crude per 100,000 population, calculated using estimated resident population as at 31 December of the relevant year.
  2. Percentages may not total 100 due to rounding.
  3. Codes in brackets refer to the ICD-10-AM (10th edition) external cause codes (ACCD 2017).

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database

For more detailed data, see Data tables B3–4.

Trends over time

Since 2008–09, there has been:

  • a 2.2% annual average increase in drowning and submersion hospitalisation rates to 2016–17
  • a 4.7% annual average decrease in drowning death rates to 2017–18.

Annual average rate changes are calculated using modelled age-standardised rates (see Technical notes for more details).

Because of changes in data collection methods, hospitalisations data for 2017–18 should not be compared with those of previous years and are not included in Figure 1 (see Technical notes for more details). Death data for 2017–18 are comparable with rates for previous years.

Figure 1: Drowning and submersion injury hospitalisation cases and deaths, by age group and sex, 2008–09 to 2016–17 (hospitalisation cases) and 2008–09 to 2017–18 (deaths)

The visualisation features 2 matching line graphs on separate tabs, 1 for hospitalisation cases and 1 for deaths. The 3 lines represent the trend for males, females and persons from 2008–09 to 2016–17 for hospitalisation cases and to 2017–18 for deaths. The reader can select to display rate per 100,000 population or number, and can select by life-stage age group including all ages.

For more detailed data, see Data tables C1–4 and E1–4.

How do rates vary by age and sex?

Drowning and submersion injury hospitalisation and death rates differ by age groups and by sex (Figure 2). In 2017–18:

  • 62% of drowning and submersion hospitalisations were for males (411 cases) and 38% were for females (253 cases)
  • 72% of drowning deaths were for males (149 deaths) and 28% were for females (59 deaths)
  • children aged 0–4 had the highest rate of hospitalisation due to drowning and submersion injuries, compared with other life-stage age groups. Of those, a swimming pool was the most common location of injury (47%)
  • the age-standardised rates of drowning and submersion injury hospitalisations were 3.4 cases per 100,000 males and 2.1 per 100,000 females
  • the age-standardised rates of drowning deaths were 1.2 per 100,000 males and 0.5 per 100,000 females.

Figure 2: Drowning and submersion injury hospitalisation cases and deaths, by age group and sex, 2017–18

The visualisation features 2 matching column graphs on separate tabs, 1 for hospitalisation cases and 1 for deaths. The columns represent sex within 6 life-stage age groups. The reader can select to display either age-specific rate per 100,000 population or number. The default displays males and females and the reader can also select to display persons.

For more detailed data, see Data tables A1–3 and D1–3.

How severe are hospitalised injuries due to drowning and submersion?

Three measures that may indicate the severity of a hospitalised injury are length of stay, percentage of cases with time in an intensive care unit (ICU), and percentage of cases involving continuous ventilator support.

The average duration of a hospital stay for drowning and submersion injuries was shorter than the average for all injury hospitalisations, but the percentage of cases that included time in the ICU was one of the highest of all the main causes of hospitalised injuries and the percentage of cases that involved continuous ventilator support was the highest of all the causes of injury (Table 2).

Table 2: Severity of drowning and submersion injury hospitalisation cases, 2017–18

 

Drowning and submersion injury

All hospitalised injuries

Average number of days in hospital

2.4

3.3

% of cases with time in an ICU

11.1

2.4

% of cases involving continuous ventilator support

7.1

1.2

Note: Average number of days in hospital (length of stay) includes admissions that are transfers from 1 hospital to another or transfers from 1 admitted care type to another within the same hospital, except where care involves rehabilitation procedures.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

In 2017–18, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, there were 45 hospitalisations and 7 deaths due to drowning and submersion (Tables 3 and 4).

Table 3: Number and rate of drowning and submersion hospitalisation cases by sex, Indigenous Australians, 2017–18

 

Males

Females

Persons

Number

21

24

45

Rate (per 100,000)

5.1

5.8

5.5

n.p. not publishable because of small numbers, confidentiality or other concerns about the quality of the data.

Note: Rates are crude per 100,000 population.

Source: AIHW National Hospital Mortality Database.

Table 4: Number and rate of drowning and submersion deaths by sex, Indigenous Australians, 2017–18

 

Males

Females

Persons

Number

5

2

7

Rate (per 100,000)

1.4

0.6

1.0

n.p. not publishable because of small numbers, confidentiality or other concerns about the quality of the data.

Notes:

  1. Rates are crude per 100,000 population.
  2. Deaths data only includes data for New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory.

Source: AIHW National Mortality Database.

Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

In 2017–18, Indigenous Australians, compared with non-Indigenous Australians, after adjusting for difference in population age structure, were 1.3 times as likely to be hospitalised due to a drowning and submersion injury (Figure 3). Readers are advised to use these data with caution due to small numbers.

Deaths data are not presented because of small numbers.

Figure 3: Drowning and submersion injury hospitalisation cases by Indigenous status, by sex, 2017–18

The visualisation features a column graphs for hospitalisation cases. The columns represent data for Indigenous and non-Indigenous males, females and persons. The reader can select to display age-standardised rate per 100,000 population or number.

For more detailed data, see Data tables A4–A6 and D4–D8.

Remoteness

In 2017–18, people living in Australia’s Remote areas had the highest age-standardised rate of hospitalisations due to drowning and submersion and people living in Inner regional areas had the lowest (Figure 4). The rate of drowning deaths was higher in Outer regional areas than in less remote areas (Data table D9). Comparison of rates is limited for drowning deaths due to small numbers.

Figure 4: Drowning and submersion injury hospitalisation cases by remoteness and sex, 2017–18

The visualisation features a column graph for hospitalisation cases. The columns represent data for each of the 5 remoteness categories for males, females and persons. The reader can select to display age-standardised rate per 100,000 population or number.

For more detailed data, see Data tables A7–A9 and D9–10.

For information on how statistics by remoteness are calculated, see Technical notes.

More information

Technical notes—read about how the data were calculated.

Data tables—download full data tables.

Glossary
 

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