3. Priority Area: People

Focus: Older people (65+ years)

Why is this an area of focus?

Australia has an ageing population, with older people living longer and having healthier lives than those of previous generations. The low impact nature of aquatic activity makes it an ideal form of physical activity and recreation for older people. However, reduced physical ability and pre-existing medical conditions contribute to the drowning risk in this demographic. Reducing drowning among older people is a complex issue and limited progress has been made.

Preventing drowning in older people (65+ years) is a priority because Australians are remaining more active into their later years and are well placed to realise the benefits of fun, fitness and recreation in and around the water but need appropriate water safety education to stay safe.

Key data (2009/10 to 2018/19)

609 drowning deaths

Average of 61 deaths per year

1.74 deaths/ 100,000 population

Top 3 locations

27% River/creek
18% Beach
16% Ocean/harbour

Top 3 activities

21% Swimming and recreating
20% Fall
16% Boating

66% Pre-existing medical condition

Most common pre-existing medical condition was cardiovascular disease

36% Medications (prescription or over the counter)

Key activities 2021-2025


  • Examine motivators and barriers for aquatic participation
  • Investigate risk factors for falls into water
  • Investigate the role of specific pre-existing medical conditions and medications in drowning


  • Integrate drowning prevention with healthy ageing and falls prevention policies and plans


  • Promote aquatic recreation in supervised locations for people with limited mobility and pre-existing injuries
  • Raise awareness of drowning prevention measures for older people
  • Deliver campaigns promoting medical check-ups that identify and address risk factors


  • Partner with organisations and agencies representing older people to promote water safety awareness
  • Partner, and align messaging, with healthy ageing and falls prevention sectors
  • Develop pathways to re-engaging with aquatic activities


  • Deliver targeted water safety and lifesaving programs to encourage safe aquatic recreation

Safe environments

  • Promote aquatic facilities as safe venues for physical activity and rehabilitation in a controlled environment
  • Promote aquatic facility design and redevelopments that cater for an ageing population
  • Promote access to, and the safe use of, open water locations to older people as they age, including beaches and lakes


  • Strengthen aquatic and recreation sector workforce capacity to cater for an ageing population

Creating medium term changes in


Understanding drowning risk factors and program effectiveness


Guidance in falls prevention and other healthy ageing policies


Infrastructure and programs specific to the needs of older people


Risk factors for drowning among those with pre-existing medical conditions


Regular medical check-ups to assess physical ability and monitor medical conditions

Targets 2030

Increased safe participation in aquatic activities by older people

Drowning rate among older people reduced by 50%