Accidental Drowning 2005

A picture of a canoeist.

The drowning problem

Drowning is a final and deadly condition. There is little chance for those that get into difficulties on water, especially water that is deep or fast flowing, and cold. Most of those who cannot swim will drown in a few seconds. Sadly those that can swim also drown close to the bank within a very short period of time after entering the water.

The number of accidental drowning deaths in the UK for 2005 is suspected to be 435. The figures peaked in June when 64 people drowned. A significant factor in the June drownings was the flooding that occurred throughout England.


  • Based on a total UK population of 60.2 million, the suspected accidental drowning rate per 100,000 of population is 0.72.
  • Deaths amongst the under 15's remained fairly static at 39 (previous figure for the last three years has been 40) and of this figure the total of 16 under 5's was only one less than the previous year.
  • There are roughly 80 UK citizens that drown abroad every year (475 drownings between 2000-2005).

Males aged 15-45:

  • 31% of all accidental drowning
  • Make up almost 40% of inland water site drownings
  • 137 died due to suspected accidental drowning
  • 66% died at inland water sites.

Location (All Ages)

Inland 234
Coastal Zone 130
Residential Location 38
Sea 26
Swimming Pool 7


Residential   Inland   Coastal
Bath 25 6%   River, stream, etc 137 31%   Inshore 76 17%
Garden pond 6 1%   Lake 50 11%   Other 25 6%
Other 3 0.7%   Canal 44 10%   Dock/Harbour 18 4%
Swimming pool 2 0.5%   Other 3 0.7%   Cliff 11 3%
Floods 2 0.5%   [Reservoir is incorporated in the above statistics] [10] [2%]        

n + sea + swimming pool = 435

The number of children drowning at home in baths, in garden ponds and related water features is still in double figures (13) and 25 people, primarily elderly persons, accidentally drowned in domestic baths.

Males account for 297 (68%) of all suspected accidental drowning, while there were 83 females (19%). There were 55 (13%) fatalities for which gender has not been recorded.

By activities/behaviour

Activity Fatalities Activity Fatalities
Non-intentional immersion 121      
>> (Fell in) (63)   Other Occupational 8
Under further investigation 121   Power boat 7
Swimming 52   Xtreme sport & other water sport 5
Other intentional immersion 35   Transport 4
Driving 28   Canoeing 3
Sailing 19   Deliberate Fatality 3
Sub Aqua 17   Fishing 3
Angling 8   Rowing 1
Grand Total 435      

In addition to the accidental drowning deaths, there were a further 155 recorded suicides and 61 cases of homicide, and 27 recorded as natural deaths that happened to occur in or near water. Three fatalities are recorded as occupational water-related fatalities.

A picture of a child paddling.Young people and drowning – the facts

Young people who drown are often victims of their own misjudgment of their swimming ability. They may view a river or lake as a tempting means of cooling off in a hot spell but fail to appreciate the harmful effects that the cold water can have on their stamina and strength.

Although learning to swim may help children who find themselves in difficulties in water, it does not follow that swimming ability makes children safe. Figures show that more than half of those who drowned could in fact swim.

Accidental drowning among the under 15s remained fairly static at 39. There was also no increase in the number of under fives who drowned in gardens, 5 in total, despite the continuing growth in the popularity of garden ponds and water features. Over 40% of child drowning is due to falling in.

RoSPA has produced a Child Accidental Drowning (PDF 170kb)information sheet.

The most important point that emerges from any examination of drowning is that there must be an intervention in the drowning process before the victim gets into difficulties.

A preventative strategy

The most positive way of countering drowning is to prevent entry into the water in the first place. It is essential to counter one of the factors which contributes to drowning as soon as possible, and certainly before the stage of possible rescue is reached. These factors form links on what we refer to as ‘The Drowning Chain’, i.e. the possible combination of events that lead to drowning.

Any plan to prevent drowning must aim to break one of these links and so avoid the ultimate fate.

The links in the chain are:

  1. Ignorance, disregard or misjudgement of danger
    An intervention is most successful if it breaks this first link in the drowning chain. Through education comes recognition and therefore avoidance of danger. The danger is then recognised, respected and avoided.
  2. Unrestricted access to hazards
    The counter to the second link in the drowning chain is to deny access to the hazard. This may be done by warning of danger or by otherwise preventing potential casualties from entering into danger, e.g. fencing.
  3. Absence of adequate supervision
    Absence of adequate supervision can only be countered by more competent training and
    application. Those who guard the lives of others can only ever be totally vigilant.
  4. Inability to save yourself, or be rescued
    If the drowning chain is still intact, and the victim has not been ‘saved’ while still out of the hazard, only the fourth and final link remains! Now only self rescue, or rescue by another person, can avoid the worst consequences.

Although rescue is a poor option in any preventative plan, this does not mean that it should not be considered and encouraged where appropriate. Other options should have greater priority because they have more chance of success.

Codes of advice

If we are to give advice on the ultimate aim of preventing drowning, this should be based upon the suggestions in the plans for intervention described earlier. RoSPA recognises the need for a water safety code to help everyone especially children, as part of their water safety education. Other codes that give priority to rescue rather than prevention tend to ignore earlier and more effective measures.

Spot the dangers!
Water may look safe, but is can be dangerous. Learn to spot and keep away from dangers. You may swim well in a warm indoor pool, but that does not mean that you will be able to swim in cold outdoor water.

Take safety advice!
Special flags and notices may warn you of danger. Know what the signs mean and do what they tell you.

Don’t go alone!
Children should always go with an adult, not by themselves. An adult can point out dangers or help if somebody gets into trouble.

Learn how to help!
You may be able to help yourself and others if you know what to do in an emergency.

Further information

Child accidental drowning 2005
Pond and Garden Safety
Child Holiday Swimming Pool Safety
Drowning Statistics
Water Safety for Children and Young People

*RoSPA cannot be held responsible for the accuracy or completeness of any pages on linked websites.

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