Latest drowning data ‘Reverses years of progress’


Carlile Swim School

 Fatal drownings are at their highest in 25 years, and children are among those most at risk of drowning. More than ever, families should race to make up for the swimming lessons lost during Australia’s lockdowns – it might just save lives.

Swim schools around the country had no choice but to close their doors and hang up their towels as Australia plunged into lockdown in early 2020. With each passing day, more lessons were missed, and before we knew it, our children had lost vital water safety education over two difficult years with drowning stats skyrocketing.

More than eight million lessons were lost. The country eventually reopened, but our children were swimming at a much lower level than they would have in a pre-lockdown world. Even more concerning are the children who have since slipped through the cracks and not been re-enrolled in swimming lessons.

Experts warned that this would directly result in an increase in fatal drownings in the coming years. Royal Lifesaving CEO Justin Scarr even suggested that the effects of “lessons missed due to COVID-19” could be “generational”.

Tragically, we saw our worst fears realised almost immediately. There was a 108% increase in drowning incidents of children under five during the first lock down year. It’s now been a year since those first devastating post-COVID numbers were released. So where do we stand in 2022?



Parents of children under five are seemingly heeding the warnings of Australia’s experts and making up for lost time in the water. This year, Royal Life Saving recorded the fatal drownings of 17 children under five. That’s 29% fewer lives lost than in 2020/ 2021, and a 23% decrease on the 10-year average.

Even though this decrease is a good sign, we must also remember the children behind the numbers. It is simply devastating that 17 young Australian children lost their lives in  the water in the last 12 months. The families of these children will carry the weight of that loss for the rest of their lives, reminding all Australians that the only acceptable figure is one where no lives are lost.

While there is cause for hope when it comes to children under five, the same cannot be said for those between five and 14. 15 young lives in this age group were lost between July 2021 and June 2022, marking a 36% increase on the 10-year average.


Sadly, this increase is more in line with the general trend across all age groups in Australia. In data that Royal Life Saving says “reverses years of progress,” 339 people drowned in Australian waterways in the last year.

“This is the worst year for drowning since 1996.”

Justin Scarr, CEO, Royal Life Saving

Tragically there are many other factors, beyond not being able to swim that contribute to the increase in drownings. The devastating floods played their part, so too a lack of adequate supervision and in many cases alcohol and drugs were also factors. So what can we learn from these statistics, and what should we be doing to keep our kids safe?

Age is no guarantee of safety. Swimming lessons are an invaluable part of growing up in Australia, yet almost 50% of Australian children graduating from primary school can’t swim 50 metres or keep themselves afloat for two minutes. This worrying fact, along with drownings among older children still being on the rise, tells us that families are withdrawing from lessons too early.

At Carlile Swimming, children graduate from Dolphin when they can swim 15 metres with good technique. But how confident would you feel if your child was caught in a rip at the beach with only that level of ability? What if your family was caught in a flood?

Keeping a child enrolled in stroke development programs throughout school has enormous benefits in terms of fitness and discipline, but above all else, it might just save their life.

Likewise, If you haven’t taken the plunge back into lessons in our post-lockdown world, why wait? It’s never too late to enrol your child in an activity that may one day save their life.

They may even come to love swimming (if they don’t already!), inspiring a healthy and safe Australian lifestyle around our country’s many waterways.

Note: Learning to swim is only the beginning of keeping children safe. Instead, we talk about being SAFER. Find out more here

Have a question?

If you’d like to know more about how Carlile can help your child learn to swim and love the water, feel free to drop into any of our pools and chat to the staff and check out lessons in action.

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