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.

In 2018–19, drowning and submersion accidents resulted in:

625 hospitalisations

2.5 per 100,000 population

255 deaths

1.0 per 100,000 population

This represents 0.1% of injury hospitalisations and 2% of injury deaths.

Swimming pools were the most common location of drowning and submersion incidents that lead to hospitalisation, while natural bodies of water were the most common location for drowning deaths. Males were 4 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. Intentional incidents are included under Self-harm injuries and suicide. Falling overboard from a watercraft is included under Transport accidents.

Locations where drowning and submersions occur

Swimming pools are the most common location of drowning and submersion accidents that lead to hospital admission (Table 1).

Table 1: Most common locations for drowning and submersion accidents which lead to hospitalisation, 2018–19

Location

Number

%

Rate (per 100,000)

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

202

32

0.8

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

143

23

0.6

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

39

6

0.2

Other or unspecified (W73–74)

243

39

1.0

Total

627

100

2.5

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 detail, see Data tables B3–4.

Trends over time

The age standardised rate of hospitalisations due to drowning and submersion in 2018–19 was 6.6% lower than the previous year. Over the period from 2009–10 to 2016–17 there was an average annual increase of 0.5%.

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, there was an average annual decrease in rate between 2009–10 and 2018–19 of 3.2% (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Drowning and submersion hospitalisations and deaths, by sex, 2009–10 to 2018–19

The visualisation features 2 matching line graphs on separate tabs, 1 for hospitalisations and 1 for deaths. The 3 lines represent the trend for males, females and persons from 2009–10 to 2018–19. The reader can select to display rate per 100,000 population or number.

For more detail, see Data tables C1–7 and E1–4.

Variation by age and sex

Rates of hospitalisation and death due to drowning and submersion differ by age groups and sex (Figure 2). In 2018–19:

  • 63% of hospitalisations and 81% of deaths were for males
  • children aged 0–4 had the highest rate of hospitalisation
  • the age-standardised rates of hospitalisation were 3.2 cases per 100,000 males and 1.9 per 100,000 females
  • the age-standardised rates of death were 1.6 per 100,000 males and 0.4 per 100,000 females.

Figure 2: Drowning and submersion hospitalisations and deaths, by age group and sex, 2018–19

The visualisation features 2 matching column graphs on separate tabs, 1 for hospitalisations 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 detail, see Data tables A1–3 and D1–3.

Severity of hospitalised injuries

There are many ways that the severity, or seriousness, of an injury could be measured. Using the available data, three measures of the severity of hospitalised injuries are:

  • number of days in hospital
  • time in an intensive care unit (ICU)
  • time on a ventilator.

The average number of days in hospital for drowning and submersion injuries was less than the average for all hospitalised injuries, but the percentage of cases that included time in the ICU, and the percentage that involved continuous ventilatory support were among highest of all the main causes (Table 2).

Table 2: Severity of drowning and submersion injury hospitalisations, 2018–19

 

Drowning and submersion

All injuries

Average number of days in hospital

3.1

4.1

% of cases with time in an ICU

9.4

2.5

% of cases involving continuous ventilator support

8.1

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.

For more detail, see data tables A12 and A13.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

In 2018–19, among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, there were  51 hospitalisations (Table 3) and 9 deaths due to drowning and submersion.

Table 3: Number of drowning and submersion hospitalisations by sex, Indigenous Australians, 2018–19

 

Males

Females

Persons

Hospitalisations

35

16

51

Source: AIHW National Hospital Mortality Database.

Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

In 2018–19, Indigenous Australians, compared with other Australians, after adjusting for difference in population age structure, were 1.8 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.

Remoteness

In 2018–19, people living in Outer regional areas had higher age-standardised rates of hospitalisation due to drowning and submersion than people living in Major cities (Figure 3). Rates of death are not compared here due to small numbers.

Figure 3: Drowning and submersion injury hospitalisations, by remoteness and sex, 2018–19

The visualisation features a column graph for hospitalisations. 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 detail, see Data tables A7–9 and D9–10.

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

More information

Defining injury hospitalisations and deaths: how injuries were counted

Technical notes: read about how the data were calculated.

Data tables: download full data tables.

Glossary