Drowning risk is at a generational high

Drowning risk is at a generational high with children months behind on swimming tuition and adults overestimating their water skills after three years affected by bushfires, rain and the pandemic, peak bodies have warned. In the past six weeks, Royal Life Saving Society – Australia has recorded 30 lives lost to drowning. Tragically, 30 per cent of these deaths were children aged 0-17 years old.

Additionally, lifesavers conducted over 1200 rescues between Christmas and New Year, with beach rescues commonly due to poorly supervised children and adults swimming in unsafe spots who incorrectly think they can handle difficult conditions.

23% of adult’s report having weak or no swimming ability, according to a PwC report commissioned by the Royal Life Saving Society in 2022. Australia’s national benchmarks for water safety say that half of people aged 17 and over should be able to swim 400 metres, as well as safely rescue another person in the water. By age 12, children should be able to swim continuously for 50 metres. But the report estimated about 40 per cent of children now leave primary school unable to swim the distance, with participation in lessons dropping significantly after the age of seven. Children missed out on an estimated 10 million swimming lessons over the course of the pandemic, according to the Royal Life Saving Society, and swim schools say staff shortages are further exacerbating the problem.

Stacey Pidgeon, national manager of research and policy at Royal Life Saving, said the 10 million missed swimming lessons “suggest that children of all ages are at increased risk of drowning this year”. Last summer’s national drowning death toll of 145 people was the highest figure in 20 years of data.

Given our national lifestyle, swimming is undeniably a vital life skill. Not being able to swim diminishes enjoyment of life and puts lives at risk, now and in the future. When children learn to swim, it opens up a world of possibility. They get the opportunity to enjoy water activities and be involved in water-based sports, school camps, beach holidays, riverside camping and playing with friends and family at the pool, just to name a few.

Through swimming lessons, they learn to recognise and understand risk factors as they enter their teens and adulthood to be able to make better decisions in and around the water to keep themselves and those around them safe.

My wish for 2023 is to see the swimming and water safety skills of all Australians improve, and to see children reach all of the recommended swimming benchmarks, for lifelong safe and active participation in physical aquatic activities and recreation. If your children re not yet in lessons – please enrol them. If your children are learning to swim – please keep them in lessons until they are truly competent.