Burden of fatal drowning in California, 2005-2019

Inj Prev. 2023 Oct;29(5):371-377. doi: 10.1136/ip-2023-044862. Epub 2023 May 19.


Objective: To characterise risk factors for fatal drowning in California, USA to inform priorities for prevention, policy and research.

Methods: This retrospective population-based epidemiological review of death certificate data evaluated fatal drowning events in California from 2005 to 2019. Unintentional, intentional, and undetermined drowning deaths and rates were described by person (age, sex, race) and context-based variables (region and body of water).

Results: California's fatal drowning rate was 1.48 per 100 000 population (n=9237). Highest total fatal drowning rates occurred in the lower population density northern regions, among older adults (75-84 years: 2.54 per 100 000 population; 85+: 3.47 per 100 000 population) and non-Hispanic American Indian or Alaska Native persons (2.84 per 100 000 population). Male drowning deaths occurred at 2.7 times the rate of females; drowning deaths occurred mainly in swimming pools (27%), rivers/canals (22.4%) and coastal waters (20.2%). The intentional fatal drowning rate increased 89% during the study period.

Conclusions: California's overall fatal drowning rate was similar to the rest of the USA but differed among subpopulations. These divergences from national data, along with regional differences in drowning population and context-related characteristics, underscore the need for state and regional level analyses to inform drowning prevention policy, programmes and research.

Keywords: descriptive epidemiology; drowning; public health.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • California / epidemiology
  • Drowning* / epidemiology
  • Drowning* / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Rivers