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Risky business: a 15-year analysis of fatal coastal drowning of young male adults in Australia
  1. Jasmin C Lawes,
  2. Annabel Ellis,
  3. Shane Daw,
  4. Luke Strasiotto
  1. Coastal Safety, Surf Life Saving Australia, Bondi Beach, New South Wales, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jasmin C Lawes, Coastal Safety, Surf Life Saving Australia, Bondi Beach, NSW 2026, Australia; jlawes{at}


Introduction Drowning is a leading cause of unintentional death, especially for males. In Australian coastal waters, young male adults account for 25% of the burden of male drowning. This study aims to describe young male coastal drowning deaths and to examine the prevalence of risk factors, especially alcohol and drugs.

Methods Characteristics of unintentional fatal drowning involving males (15–34 years) were compared with other adults (15 years and older). Data were sourced from the National Coronial Information System (Australia) and Surf Life Saving incident reports (2004/2005–2018/2019). Relative risk was calculated and χ2 tests of independence were performed (p<0.05). Blood alcohol and drug concentrations were analysed with permutational analyses of variance.

Results Young males drowned more while jumping (9.85 times), swimming/wading (1.41 times), at rock/cliff locations (1.42 times) and on public holidays (1.8 times). Young males drowned less while boating (0.81 times), scuba diving (2.08 times), offshore (1.56 times) or due to medical factors (3.7 times). Young males drowned more (1.68 times) after consuming illicit drugs (amphetamines 2.26 times; cannabis 2.25 times) and less with prescription drugs (benzodiazepines 2.6 times; opiates 4.1 times; antidepressants 7.7 times). Blood serum concentrations of cannabis were higher in young males, while amphetamine and alcohol were lower.

Discussion Unsafe behaviours alongside certain activities or locations create deadly combinations of risk factors. A relationship between age, activity, attitude and affluence is proposed, where young males drown more in affordable activities with fewer regulations. Our results support multilevel strategies (spanning life stages) to reduce young male coastal drowning.

  • drowning
  • youth
  • risk/determinants
  • alcohol
  • drugs
  • behaviour

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  • Twitter @Dr_Jaz_Lawes

  • Contributors JCL, LS, AE and SD conceptualised and designed the study. AE and JCL conducted the literature searches. LS and JCL conducted the analysis. JCL drafted the initial manuscript and approved the final manuscript as submitted. LS, SD and AE reviewed and revised the manuscript and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding This research is supported by the Surf Life Saving Australia to aid in the reduction of drowning. Research at the Surf Life Saving Australia is supported in part by the Australian Government.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with ethics approval from the Department of Justice and Regulation Human Research Ethics Committee (JHREC; CF/07/13632; CF/10/25053; CF/16/17314).

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data availability statement Data may be obtained from a third party and are not publicly available. Researchers can apply for approval to access the coronial data presented in this study. For those interested, please contact the Australian National Coronial Information System for more information:

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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