National Coastal Safety Report

Wednesday 08 September 2021


New research by Australia’s leading water safety authorities Royal Life Saving Society – Australia (RLSSA) and Surf Life Saving Australia (SLSA) has revealed a spike in drowning deaths in the past 12 months, with unfamiliar locations, exhaustion, and interruptions to regular swimming during the COVID-19 pandemic considered key factors.

In the Royal Life Saving National Drowning Report 2021 and Surf Life Saving National Coastal Safety Report 2021 released today, there were 294 drowning deaths in the past 12 months across Australia’s coastline, inland waterways and pools, which is 20% higher than last year (245).

Read the Surf Life Saving Australia Media Release here

Key Findings

  • 5 drowning deaths occurred in the Northern Territory in 2020-2021. 
    • Whilst a 44% decrease on 2019/20 and a 44% decrease on the 10-year average, this is still 5 too many. 
  • Looking at our coast, there have been 8 coastal drowning deaths in the Northern Territory from 2016-2021
    • Since 2004, 28% of coastal drowning deaths have been First Nations people.
    • During the period 2016-2021, there were also 23 coastal fatalities. 


  • Males represent 90% of coastal drowning deaths in 2020/21, with alcohol and drugs, risk taking behaviour and over-estimating their ability considered key factors.
  • 31% of all coastal drowning deaths were aged 20-34 years of age
  • Swimming/wading regained its top rank (31%), followed by boating (23%), and then rock fishing, falls and watercraft activities equally (9% each).

 Water safety messages

 Supervise children around water - Active supervision means focusing all of your attention on your children all of the time, when they are in, on or around the water in all environments. Distractions like answering the phone, attending to another child, or checking an email can have tragic consequences.

Check your backyard pool fence and gate – A correctly installed and regularly maintained pool fence can prevent children gaining access to the pool area unaccompanied. Gates should be self-closing and self-latching. Never prop the gate open.

Avoid alcohol and drugs around water - Alcohol and drug consumption can affect judgement, coordination and reaction time, increasing risk-taking behaviour. Avoid alcohol and drugs around water – Don’t drink and swim.

Wear a lifejacket when on the water – Lifejackets should be properly fitted and regularly maintained. Inflatable lifejackets should be checked and serviced each year. Always wear a lifejacket when boating, rock fishing, paddling or riding a personal watercraft (PWC).

Avoid going alone around water – Adult males are more likely to participate in aquatic recreational activity alone than any other group. In the case of an emergency, there may be no one around to assist or contact emergency services. Always swim with a friend.

Learn first aid and lifesaving skills – Having the skills to react in an emergency situation can mean the difference between life and death. Resuscitation is a skill for life, learn CPR and update your skills regularly.

 Swim between the flags surf lifesavers and lifeguards set up patrolled areas so they can best look after you, if you are not swimming at these locations then the time to get to you could make a big difference and cost you your life.

STOP, LOOK, PLAN - (Stop – pause and see where you are can you see a rip or other danger | Look – is there other hazards, is their large waves or rocks, can I see if there is a patrolled area | Plan – where am I going, is it patrolled? Do I know how to recognise dangers? What will I do if something goes wrong?)

Know your limits – no-one plans to get into trouble, but it happens too often. Know your limits and those of others you are with. Too often someone has gone to rescue someone else and it has cost their life. 


Full reports are available here:

Surf Life Saving Australia National Coastal Safety Report 2021 – Available in full at 

Royal Life Saving Society – Australia National Drowning Report 2021. Available in full at


National Coastal Safety Report