Featured News Drowning researchers look for help

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Wed, 12 Jul 2017

Drowning researchers look for help

A James Cook University scientist is working on ways bystanders can help when they spot someone in trouble in the water.

JCU’s Associate Professor Richard Franklin said about five percent of people who drowned at Australian beaches last year died trying to rescue others.

“Only four percent of Australian beaches are patrolled and the vast majority of drowning deaths occur in locations where there are no lifesavers or emergency services available. Quite often a bystander jumps in to help,” said Dr. Franklin.

Surf Life Saving Australia is funding the researchers, from JCU and The University of New South Wales, in an effort to find ways to provide future bystander rescuers with greater skills, knowledge and awareness so they can make correct decisions in emergency situations.

“We know very little about the circumstances leading to bystander rescues and the factors that make for a successful and unsuccessful rescue. We simply don’t know what advice we should be giving people,” said Dr. Franklin.

As a first step, the team has put together an online survey (links below) to determine the role of bystanders in water rescues – determining the ‘who, where, when, why and how’ characteristics of rescues, and the circumstances surrounding them.

“We want to hear from people who have been involved in a bystander rescue, either as the rescuer or the person who needed rescuing,” said Dr Franklin.

Shane Daw, National Coastal Risk and Safety Manager – Surf Life Saving Australia, said any loss of life is tragic.

“But even more so when someone has lost their life in attempting to save someone else. Having more information on incidents that a bystander has attended will be valuable in identifying the common factors that could help develop future services to prevent avoidable loss of life,” he said.

Dr Franklin said this week (Monday 10th – Sunday 16th July) is the last week the survey will be open.

“We want your thoughts about what makes a rescue successful. We are not just confining it to the beach, I am particularly interested in those rescues carried out in rural Australia. Hopefully the more we know the more people we can save in the future. We will be taking the finding to the World Conference on Drowning Prevention in Canada in November 2017.”

Survey available here:

Web link: https://www.surveys.unsw.edu.au/f/162840/1598/


The 2016-17 summer saw a significant spike in the number of fatal drownings occurring in Australia. Over the two-month period between December 2016 and January 2017, the Royal Life Saving Society Australia reported 69 drowning deaths in Australian waterways, which was more than double that of previous summers.


Associate Professor Richard Franklin
P: (07) 4781 5939
E: Richard.franklin@jcu.edu.au