A horror year for drowning which claimed 302 Australian lives has prompted urgent calls from the Royal Life Saving Society - Australia for increased parental awareness, a greater emphasis on swimming and water safety education, and extreme caution when swimming in rivers, lakes and dams to halt the rising death toll.
In the 12 months to June 30, 2009, 41 more people drowned than the previous year, raising the total number of drowning deaths by 16% on last year's figures. Almost all age groups recorded an increase in the number of deaths against the five year average.
Royal Life Saving's 2009 National Drowning Report was released today by Hon Kate Ellis, Minister for Early Childhood Education, Child Care and Youth and Minister for Sport at Parliament House, Canberra.
"These figures released today represent an incredibly alarming trend that must be reversed," Ms Ellis said.
"The Australian Government is working in partnership with Australia's outstanding water safety bodies including Royal Life Saving Society - Australia to do just that. By working together I believe that we can make a real difference around water safety in this country particularly for our kids."
Rob Bradley, Royal Life Saving Society - Australia CEO said the statistics were a wakeup call to all Australians about the need for water safety skills at both ends of the life cycle.
"Looking at the statistics for this year, there are two key groups we are very worried about: children aged 0 to 17 years old and Australians aged over 55 years. It's important to remember that each death represents an Australian whose loss is felt by their family and community," Mr Bradley said.
"The message just doesn't seem to be getting through to pool owners that it is vital to check and maintain pool fences all year around to protect children under five years old from drowning in backyard pools.
"In older children aged between 5 and 14, more than half of all drowning deaths occurred in rivers and almost three-quarters of those who died were boys. Too many children aren't being given the information and skills to accurately judge the risks posed by natural waterways.
"Once children are aged over 15 we see a big jump in drowning deaths which we believe is attributable to the collision of two factors: the fact that water safety skills haven't been drilled into them earlier and the sharp decline in direct supervision as children become more independent.
"At the other end of the age spectrum, 31% of all drowning deaths were in the 55 and older age category. Swimming and water sports generally aren't like riding a bike. You need to refresh your skills and keep check of how your body is changing so you don't find yourself in trouble because mentally you are still measuring your capacity against what you could do as a 25 year old."
Mr. Bradley also stressed the importance of learning CPR and doing regular refresher courses every year to ensure, in the event you need to use CPR, you have the skills to save a life. He urged anyone who wanted to learn CPR or do a refresher course to contact their State or Territory Royal Life Saving office on 1300 737 763 for information.