Objective: To determine patterns of victims, circumstances and locations of drownings in Australia in 1992-1997, inclusive.
Methods: Population figures and available details of all drownings were obtained from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Accidental non-boating drownings (ICD E910), boating incidents (E830-832), homicide (E964), suicide (E954), and other deaths without a drowning E code but "flagged" because drowning was involved (although not the primary cause of death) were included.
Results: The overall accidental non-boating drowning rate was 1.44/100,000 population/year. The commonest sites for non-boating drowning were ocean or estuary (22%), private swimming pools (17%), non-tidal lakes and lagoons (17%), surfing beach (10%) and bathtub (7%). 22% of victims were aged under 5 years; this group had a drowning rate of 4.6/100,000 population/year. Very few young children drowned in the ocean or in boating incidents. The rate of boating drownings was 0.29/100,000 population/year. Overseas tourists comprised 4.7% of all non-boating drownings, 18% of surf and ocean drownings, and 25% of all scuba drownings. Indigenous people had a much higher drowning rate than the general population.
Conclusions: Drownings in children aged less than 5 years continue to be the greatest challenge for water safety organisations and legislators. Drownings in the Indigenous community and among tourists requires more detailed study and action. To assist in developing preventive strategies, the National Water Safety Council will need to clarify the categories described as "ocean/estuary" and "lake, lagoon, dam and waterhole".