Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2022) Drowning and submersion, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 27 November 2022.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2022). Drowning and submersion. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/injury/drowning-and-submersion
Drowning and submersion. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 25 November 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/injury/drowning-and-submersion
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Drowning and submersion [Internet]. Canberra: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2022 [cited 2022 Nov. 27]. Available from: https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/injury/drowning-and-submersion
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2022, Drowning and submersion, viewed 27 November 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/injury/drowning-and-submersion
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< causes of Injury
Water-based activities such as swimming and bathing are usually safe, when risks are managed. However, environmental conditions or accidents can lead to 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.
Drowning and submersion injuries caused:
570 hospitalisations in 2020–21
2.2 per 100,000 population
225 deaths in 2019–20
0.9 per 100,000 population
This represents 0.1% of injury hospitalisations and 1.7% of injury deaths.
Both swimming pools and natural bodies of water were common locations of drowning and submersion accidents that led to hospitalisation, while natural bodies of water were the most common location for drowning deaths. Males were 3.3 times as likely to die from drowning as females. Children aged under 5 had the highest rate of hospitalisation.
This report summarises data on accidental drowning and submersion events only. Intentional events are included under Self-harm injuries and suicide. Falling overboard from a watercraft is included under Transport accidents.
Swimming pools are the most common location of drowning and submersion accidents that lead to hospital admission, closely followed by natural bodies of water (Table 1).
Rate (per 100,000)
Swimming pool (including following a fall into a pool) (W67–68)
Natural water (including following a fall into natural water) (W69–70)
Bathtub (including following a fall into a bathtub) (W65–66)
Other or unspecified (W73–74)
Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database
Natural bodies of water are the most common location of drowning and submersion accidents that led to death (Table 2).
Other, unspecified or elsewhere classified (W73–74, T75.1)
Source: AIHW National Mortality Database
For more detail, see Data tables B3–4 and E4–5.
Hospital admissions due to drowning and submersion show a strong seasonal pattern, and are highest in summer.
The interactive display shows other seasonal changes in injury hospitalisations.
1. Admission counts have been standardised into two 15-day periods per month.
2. A scale-up factor has been applied to June admissions to account for cases not yet separated.
Source: AIHW National Hospital Morbidity Database.
The age-standardised rate of hospitalisations due to drowning and submersion in 2020–21 was 4.9% higher than the previous year.
Over the period from 2011–12 to 2016–17 there was an average annual increase of 4.2%.
There is a break in the time series for hospitalisations between 2016–17 and 2017–18 due to a change in data collection methods (see the technical notes for details).
For drowning deaths, the age-standardised rate for 2019–20 was 15% lower than a year earlier. The average annual decrease in rate between 2011–12 and 2019–20 was 5.0% (Figure 2).
2 matching line graphs on separate tabs, 1 tab for hospitalisations and 1 for deaths. The 3 lines represent the trend for males, persons and females. The reader can choose to display rate per 100,000 population or number.
For more detail, see Data tables C1–3 and F1–4.
Rates of hospitalisation and death due to drowning and submersion differ by age group and sex (Figure 3).
For hospitalisations caused by drowning and submersion in 2020–21:
For drowning deaths in 2019–20:
Column graph representing sex within 6 life-stage age groups. The reader can choose to display either rate per 100,000 population or number. The reader can choose to display hospitalisations or deaths. The default displays rate of hospitalisations for males and females and the reader can also choose to display persons.
For more detail, see Data tables A1–3 and D1–3.
There are many ways that the severity, or seriousness, of an injury can be assessed. Some of the ways to measure the severity of hospitalised injuries are:
The percentage of cases that included time in the ICU, the percentage that involved continuous ventilatory support, and the rate of in-hospital deaths were among the highest of all injury causes (Table 3).
Drowning and submersion
Average number of days in hospital
% of cases with time in an ICU
% of cases involving continous ventilatory support
In-hospital deaths (per 1,000 cases)
Note: Average number of days in hospital (length of stay) includes hospitalisations 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.
For more detail, see Data tables A13–15.
Among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, drowning and submersion injuries led to:
Source: AIHW National Hospital Mortality Database.
In 2020–21, Indigenous Australians, compared with other Australians, after adjusting for differences in population age structure, were 1.7 times as likely to be hospitalised due to a drowning and submersion injury. Readers are advised to use these data with caution due to small numbers.
Deaths data are not compared here because of the small numbers.
For more detail, see Data tables A4–A6 and D4–D8.
In 2020–21, people living in Inner regional areas had higher age-standardised rates of hospitalisation due to drowning and submersion than people living in Major cities (Figure 5) (Data table A9). Rates of death are not compared here due to small numbers.
This is a column graph of hospitalisations by each of the 5 remoteness categories for males, females and persons. The reader can choose to display age-standardised rate per 100,000 population or number.
For more detail, see Data tables A7–9 and D9–10.
For information on how the statistics were calculated by remoteness, see the technical notes.
Technical notes: how the data were calculated
Data tables: download full data tables
ACCD (Australian Consortium for Classification Development) 2019. The international statistical classification of diseases and related health problems, 10th revision, Australian modification (ICD-10-AM), 11th ed. Tabular list of diseases and alphabetic index of diseases. Adelaide: Independent Hospital Pricing Authority (IHPA), Lane Publishing.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2021. Data update: Short-term health impacts of the 2019–20 Australian bushfires. Canberra: AIHW. Viewed 5 April 2022, https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/environment-and-health/data-update-health-impacts-2019-20-bushfires/contents/summary.
WHO (World Health Organization) 2016. International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems, tenth revision. Fifth ed. Geneva: WHO.
The following are recent publications that include information on drowning and submersion. Search Reports for older publications.
The first year of COVID-19 in Australia: direct and indirect health effects
Trends in hospitalised injury, Australia, 2007–08 to 2016–17
Trends in injury deaths, Australia, 1999–00 to 2016–17
Hospitalised injury and socioeconomic influence in Australia 2015–16
Injury mortality and socioeconomic influence in Australia 2015–16
Indigenous injury deaths 2011–12 to 2015–16
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