5. Priority Area: Places

Focus: Rivers & lakes

Why is this an area of focus?

Rivers and lakes continue to be a leading location for drowning. Rapidly changing conditions and hidden dangers, such as strong currents, submerged objects, slippery or crumbling banks and cold water, can lead to people getting into difficulty. Unlike other aquatic locations, inland waterways are not regularly patrolled by a lifesaving or maritime service. In the case of an emergency, timely medical assistance may be impacted by geographic isolation and a lack of telecommunication facilities.

Preventing drowning in rivers and lakes is a priority as inland waterways account for more than a third of location-based drowning. A diverse range of activities and exposure to hazards, as well as drowning risk factors, such as alcohol, being male and residing in rural and remote communities, makes drowning prevention in rivers and lakes challenging.

Key data (2009/10 to 2018/19)

1,009 drowning deaths

Average of 101 deaths per year

0.43 deaths/ 100,000 population

Top 3 age groups

11% 25-29 years
9% 20-24 years
8% 45-49 years

Top 3 activities

20% Swimming and recreating
19% Fall
17% Non-aquatic transport

28% BAC ≥0.05% (among those aged 15 years and over)

9% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

70% Regional and remote

13% Flood-related

Key activities 2021-2025


  • Standardise definitions to improve data consistency
  • Conduct exposure studies to improve understanding of risk at inland waterways
  • Evaluate new and existing interventions (e.g. signage, media campaigns and education programs)


  • Strengthen policies requiring risk assessments for key locations and recreational user groups
  • Promote adoption of Guidelines on Inland Waterways Safety by water authorities
  • Develop local water safety plans for key locations and communities


  • Deliver and evaluate campaigns highlighting risk-taking behaviour among males, including alcohol and drug consumption, recreating alone and dangerous entries into water
  • Advocate for improvements in community access to waterways for recreational purposes
  • Highlight the risks faced by agricultural workers on properties with unfenced water bodies, such as dams


  • Build and strengthen partnerships with land management agencies, including Local and State and Territory Government, National Parks and Wildlife Services, water management authorities, and tourism and agricultural sectors
  • Partner with disaster management agencies to address the risk of flood-related drowning


  • Deliver and evaluate programs tailored to communities at rivers and lakes
  • Disseminate safety information through community groups and tourism operators

Safe environments

  • Conduct local risk assessments to better understand environmental hazards, such as currents and slippery or crumbling banks, at high-risk rivers and lakes
  • Investigate the feasibility of emergency help points, including rescue equipment, satellite phones at high-risk rivers and lakes
  • Better integration of data monitoring river and lake conditions to support warning and alert systems
  • Install appropriate safety signage, noting the importance of visual and multilingual information


  • Map the role of park rangers, environmental officers, tourism sector, police and other Government authorities in drowning prevention
  • Incorporate drowning prevention measures into agricultural risk assessments and relevant training for workers

Creating medium term changes in


Understanding risk, exposure and intervention effectiveness


Adoption of drowning risk management plans and policies by water managers


Community education programs delivered in rivers and lakes


Community understanding of river and lake hazards


Risk-taking behaviour in drowning at rivers and lakes

Targets 2030

Widespread use of drowning risk management planning for rivers and lakes, and recreational user groups

Drowning rate at rivers and lakes reduced by 50%