Rivers, Creeks, Streams and Drowning in Australia

Any of you who read last Wednesdays post 20 Things to Do on the Sunshine Coast will know that most of those things involved, to quote a famous old song, messing about on a river. What we enjoyed most was kayaking, we may even take it up as a sport.

We could go kayaking on any one of Australia’s rivers, creeks and streams available and easily accessible throughout the country. For example, the Brisbane River…

newstead-picnic-canoesProbably our favourite spot on all on Brisbane River would be Colleges Crossing, just a 10 minute or so drive from where we live…

The Brisbane RiverAs it turns out though, more people in Australia drown in rivers, creeks and streams than in any other water location. So if we are to take up kayaking as a hobby, it would be a good idea to be aware of the potential dangers.

Where people drown

The Royal Life Saving Society Australia regularly look at the drowning statistics here in this country and last year they released a report looking at 10 years worth of drowning, covering 2002 through to 2012. During this period 2965 people died as a result of drowning in Australia, 735 of them, that’s 25%, were in rivers, creeks or streams.

Let’s take a look at the full breakdown.

Australian drowning locations 1 July 2002 to 30 June 2012:

  • Rivers, creeks and streams – 25%
  • Oceans and harbours – 18%
  • Beach – 16%
  • Swimming pool – 15%
  • Lake, dam or lagoon – 10%
  • Bath tub or spa bath – 7%
  • Rocks – 5%
  • Other – 4%

About those 735 people who drowned in rivers, creeks and streams:

  • 37% of them had been drinking alcohol, some quite a lot of it
  • 49% in the 45-54 age group had consumed alcohol
  • 80% of all drownings were males
  • The most prominent group were males aged 25-34
  • Northern Territory had the highest rate per 100,000 at 1.81
  • Tasmania was second at 0.66 per 100,000
  • The national average is 0.35 per 100,000
  • For indigenous people the rate is 1.58 per 100,000
  • 27% had some kind of drug in their body, about one third of those, illegal drugs
  • 17% of all drowning deaths were related to flooding events
  • 37% of all drowning victims were known to have an underlying medical condition

NB. Some, I’m not sure how many, of those 17% flooding related drownings would have been people trying to pass through fast flowing waters, maybe in their 4×4, trying to get home during a heavy rainfall event. It’s not a good idea, in fact it’s a very bad idea, please see my post SES: State Emergency Services in Australia.

Australia’s top 10 river blackspots:

  1. Murray River (NSW, VIC & SA)
  2. Brisbane River (QLD)
  3. Yarra River (VIC)
  4. Swan River (WA)
  5. Hawkesbury River (NSW)
  6. Murrumbidgee River (NSW)
  7. Sandy Creek (QLD)
  8. Derwent River (TAS)
  9. Katherine River (NT)
  10. Macquarie River (NSW)

Knowledge is power, as they say, so being aware of all of the above will help you assess how likely you are to get into trouble in a river, creek or stream. If you go to the beach for a swim, you can take a massive step to staying safe simply by swimming between the flags.

But what can you do when you go to a river, creek or stream? Here’s the advice given out by Royal Life Saving.

Advice for staying safe:

  • Never swim alone
  • Never undertake any form of aquatic activity under the influence of alcohol or drugs
  • Be aware of hazards specific to rivers and creeks such as sudden pockets of deep water, cold water, an uneven river bed, steep and often unstable river banks
  • In rivers and creeks, strong currents and submerged objects that are often difficult to see due to the murky water.
  • When boating, always wear a lifejacket, check weather conditions before setting off and tell someone where you are going and when you are due back
  • Always actively supervise children around water

Source: royallifesaving.com.au

You can read the full report by clicking the following link, the PDF will open immediately in your browser. The report is called Drowning Deaths in Australian Rivers.

Seems that messing about on a river is a serious business, anybody who does decide to mess about on a river would do well to be aware of the potential dangers. We will certainly be bearing all this in mind if we take up kayaking.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Jen October 13, 2015, 5:01 pm | Link

    It would be interesting to see the break down between those who drown that are Australian residences or Tourists. I live in FNQ most of the drowning we hear about are tourists that decide it would be a good idea to swim in flood waters or 70 year old’s who have never swam before having heart attacks.

    • BobinOz October 13, 2015, 9:28 pm | Link

      They have a fair bit of information in the report about the geographical location of those who drowned. For example, 74% drowned in a river, stream or creek within 100 km of where they lived.

      In Northern Territory though, 38% of the drownings were by visitors. I couldn’t find a precise number for international visitors who drowned here in Australia, but 44% of them, whatever that number is, did it in Queensland.

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