Ex-swimming instructor discusses the surge in drowning deaths in Australia during the summer and what must be done

After a horrifying summer of drownings and a surge in fatalities in previous years despite public safety campaigns, it raises the question as to why so many Australians are getting into difficulty in the sea.

According to the Royal Life Saving Summer Drowning Toll, there have been 43 documented drowning deaths in Australia this summer alone as of mid-January.

In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in the number of school-aged children who drown.

With an estimated 1.7 million youngsters enrolled in swimming classes – a 20 percent increase compared to pre-pandemic enrollments – drowning deaths are continuing on the rise, and here is the reason why.

As a former swim instructor, I have assisted numerous youngsters in their efforts to learn to swim, but I have also seen where we are falling short.

With an estimated 1.7 million youngsters participating in swimming lessons, a 20% increase above pre-pandemic enrollments, the number of drowning deaths continues to rise.

Children in elementary school are the most susceptible to drownings in the present and future because they are pulled out of swimming classes before becoming proficient in the water

While a great deal of emphasis is focused on enrolling infants and toddlers in swimming lessons as early as possible, I’ve always been most concerned about the swimming skills of elementary school-aged children, and the statistics supports this position.

When children are initially introduced to water during classes, they are apprehensive to enter because they are aware of the discomfort of swallowing water and not being able to control their body movements completely, especially when they cannot touch the bottom.

Even children with several swimming lessons can panic if they ingest water, are splashed, or have their equilibrium disturbed by another child or an external force.

These children are typically full of confidence, but as soon as they lose control or encounter anything unexpected, they panic and drown.


– Ensure that they are always monitored in and around the water.

– Ensure that your child can swim at least 50 meters without help or that a capable adult is constantly within arm’s reach of them when they are in the water.

– Always use a life jacket while boating or fishing

Enroll them in swimming classes – enroll them in a local swim school or a summer program during the school holidays.

– Empty all water sources, such as bathtubs, buckets, and inflatable pools, after usage.

Generally, parents keep a close check on their infants when they are near or in the water, but as the child develops and gains confidence, they pay less and less attention to what their children are doing in the water, sometimes even leaving them unsupervised.

Children may take swimming lessons for a brief period during their early formative years, when the focus is on floating, holding their breath, and swimming back to the edge.

However, all of these fundamentals can be forgotten if a youngster drowns, ingests a mouthful of water, and panics; this is why swimming lessons over many years are essential.

As with any other skill, if you do not continue to practice it, your proficiency will diminish. Swimming is comparable.

Even if your child knew the essentials of how to live if they fell into a pool or were caught in a rip current at the beach two years ago, that does not indicate they could save themselves now.

Another issue is that while youngsters may learn to swim in a pool, they may not be equipped to deal with swimming in seas and rivers as they mature.

The ability to navigate threats such as currents and rips typically demands a significant amount of swimming experience.

Your child’s ability to swim 50 meters in any stroke is an excellent indicator of his or her potential to self-rescue in the water. If the response is no, then there is an issue that needs to be addressed.


Although 300,000 more children are now enrolled in swimming lessons compared to pre-pandemic levels, the increase is concentrated among Australia’s youngest children and has severely missed the seven- to 12-year-old age group.

Chief Executive Officer of Royal Life Saving, Justin Scarr, told Daily Mail Australia that he had severe concerns for primary school-aged children, given that many did not learn to swim during the pandemic.

Mr. Scarr stated, “According to recent data, swimming lessons have increased by 30%, with the majority of growth occurring in the youngest age group.”

Long-term study indicates, however, that children drop out of swimming classes between the ages of six and eight, and because to the pandemic, children who were five, six, and seven did not learn to swim then and are not learning to swim now.

A shortage of training and enrollments among primary school-aged children has prompted concerns that this age group will enter adolescence unprepared for riskier swimming activities.

Royal Life Saving Chief Executive Officer Justin Scarr told the Daily Mail Australia that he had severe concerns about primary school-aged children, given that many of them did not learn to swim during the pandemic.

Mr. Scarr feels that it gets more difficult to enroll children in courses once they reach primary school age since the majority of children have two working parents, limiting their weekday availability, and their weekends are filled with sports and other obligations.

“Children over the age of eight are bombarded with soccer and netball registration, parties, and gatherings,” he added. “It is difficult to convince parents to enroll their children in lessons.”

I would just urge parents to observe their school-aged children in the water in comparison to their friends.

“Can your child aged seven to twelve swim at least 50 meters?” If the answer is no, you must enroll them in swimming classes at the local pool.’

Due to the paucity of swimming training for children in elementary school, there is concern that they will approach their teens and twenties unprepared to engage in riskier aquatic activities.

Mr. Scarr reiterated this sentiment and expects that by 2030, when these children become adolescents, the drowning figures will worsen.

“Lessons are about protecting children this summer, but even more so for future summers, especially as they approach adolescence and become more likely to go to the water without parental supervision,” Mr. Scarr said.

Teenagers are statistically less likely to camp near lifeguards than in more remote areas, according to the data.

While we must focus on the immediate issue of drowning, we must also keep in mind that a seven-year-old who cannot swim without assistance today will be fifteen in 2030 and extremely susceptible to drowning.

The National Drowning Report for 2022 revealed a 36% rise in drowning deaths among school-aged children (five to fourteen years of age) compared to the 10-year average.

It is impossible to stress the significance of school-aged children returning to swimming and water safety programs.

The National Drowning Report for 2022 revealed a 36% rise in drowning deaths among school-aged children (five to fourteen years old) compared to the 10-year average.

All age categories, with the exception of children under five, reported an alarming increase in drowning mortality.

According to the Royal Life Saving Summer Drowning Toll, there have been 39 documented drowning deaths in Australia in summer alone as of mid-January 2023.