Snorkelling-related deaths in Australia, 1994-2006

Med J Aust. 2012 Aug 20;197(4):230-2. doi: 10.5694/mja11.10988.


Objective: To examine the frequency and causes of snorkelling-related deaths in Australia.

Design, setting and subjects: We conducted a retrospective analysis of snorkelling-related deaths recorded in Australia from 1994 to 2006 inclusive, based on information from the Divers Alert Network Asia-Pacific database, the National Coroners Information System, coronial files from all states and territories, and annual national drowning reports.

Main outcome measures: Number and attributed causes of snorkelling-related deaths.

Results: We identified 140 snorkelling-related deaths. Forensic details were available for 130 of these. Four principal cause-of-death categories were identified: deaths from cardiac or suspected cardiac causes (60), deaths from surface drowning (largely in inexperienced snorkellers) (33), deaths from drowning after prolonged breath-hold diving (largely in experienced divers) (19), and deaths from trauma (10). Eight people died of other causes.

Conclusions: In the context of the large population sampled, snorkelling-related deaths are rare. Preventive measures for such deaths could include pre-dive medical assessments for people with a history of cardiac or respiratory disease or with a family history of sudden unexpected death; improved training in how to use snorkelling equipment; better matching of skills to health, fitness and water conditions; better supervision and quality training of supervisors in rescue and resuscitation techniques; and avoidance of hyperventilation before breath-hold diving.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Cause of Death*
  • Diving / injuries
  • Diving / statistics & numerical data
  • Drowning / mortality
  • Heart Diseases / mortality
  • Humans
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Swimming* / injuries
  • Swimming* / statistics & numerical data
  • Wounds and Injuries / etiology
  • Wounds and Injuries / mortality