The first day of summer has been declared National Water Safety Day as the country's peak water safety bodies urge Australians to look after each other in our waterways this season.

Royal Life Saving Society Australia says an "unacceptable number" of drownings occur in the summer months.

There were 248 drownings between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020 and 39 per cent - 97 people - died during summer.

Drownings by month for 2019/20. Picture: Royal Life Saving Society Australia
Drownings by month for 2019/20. Picture: Royal Life Saving Society Australia


Drownings peaked in December with 39 deaths followed by January with 36 fatalities.

There were also 504 non-fatal drowning incidents over the 12 months.

Aussies have already been flocking to beaches amid heatwave conditions and balmy nights.

A seven-year-old boy died after he was found unconscious at the bottom of a swimming spot in the Blue Mountains in mid-November.

Stephen Mote, 41, drowned trying to rescue his son at Woonona Beach near Wollongong on November 21 and a 24-year-old woman died at Smiths Beach, Phillip Island on Sunday.

Drownings by season, July 2019 to June 2020. Picture: Royal Life Saving Society Australia
Drownings by season, July 2019 to June 2020. Picture: Royal Life Saving Society Australia

Overall deaths decreased on the 10-year average and against previous yearly figures however 12 children aged zero to four drowned and there were nine deaths in children aged five to 14.

Authorities are mindful COVID-19 restrictions impacted indoor and outdoor sport this year including swimming lessons.

Royal Life Saving Society chief executive Justin Scarr said there was a 25 per cent fall in September 2020 enrolments in learn to swim classes, compared to the same time last year.

"This past year has been unlike any other. First, a summer of tragic bushfires, and now the COVID-19 pandemic," he said.

"While we know that bushfires changed people's behaviours, temporarily closed access to national parks and forced holiday cancellations, we are less certain about the potential impacts of COVID-19 over the coming summer, or of the long-term safety impacts resulting from falling enrolments in learn to swim programs."

Almost 100 people drowned last summer. Picture: Surf Life Saving Australia
Almost 100 people drowned last summer. Picture: Surf Life Saving Australia

According to the latest National Drowning Report, most of the 248 people who drowned in 2019/20 were not visitors (67 per cent), drowning within 100km of where they lived.

Surf Life Saving Australia chief executive Adam Weir said with more Australians likely to be staying close to home this season, people should only swim at beaches patrolled by lifeguards.

"Last summer, close to 50 per cent of all coastal drownings occurred between December 1 and February 29, with 41 people losing their lives during that period," he said on Tuesday.

"Our message is to STOP. LOOK. PLAN. Stop and don't rush into the water. Look and observe the area for potential hazards. Plan to swim between the red and yellow flags and if there aren't any flags, only enter the water if it is safe to do so."


National Water Safety Day has been backed by the Australian Government and also has the support of the federal Opposition.

Sports Minister Richard Colbeck said: "Enjoy the season - but don't let complacency creep in. The price is far too high."

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said water safety awareness is "particularly important this year as people stay closer to home for the summer".

"As we go to the beach or the pool, or down to the creek, it is important that just as we are COVID-safe, we are also water-safe," he said.

Originally published as Warning issued as drowning 'peak' begins


Qld’s anti-vaxxer hotspots to be targeted in jab campaign

Premium Content Qld’s anti-vaxxer hotspots to be targeted in jab campaign

Queensland’s anti-vaxxer hotspots will be centre of COVID-19 jab campaign

Flashback: What we were reading in Guardian 40 years ago

Premium Content Flashback: What we were reading in Guardian 40 years ago

Plans for a new preschool were moving ahead, Vietnamese families were being settled...

Wet, wild and hot with a chance of cyclone

Premium Content Wet, wild and hot with a chance of cyclone

Wild and wet weekend expected for parts of Queensland