Drowning Statistics

Inside The Numbers

According to the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, drowning is major public health problem worldwide. In 2012, an estimated 372,000 people died from drowning. Drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury-related death, accounting for 7 percent of all injury-related deaths.

This issue is truly a matter of life and death for children and adults around the world. Drowning and non-fatal drowning impacts families everywhere around the globe, regardless of geography, race or economics. 

The World's Largest Swimming Lesson™ event brings together tens of thousands of individuals from hundreds of communities around the globe that are committed to saving lives by teaching kids how to be safer in and around the water. Spreading the message that Swimming Lessons Save Lives™ is what TEAM WLSL™ is all about. 

How big is the problem?

Drowning is one of the top 5 causes of death for people aged 1-14 years for 48 of 85 countries with data meeting inclusion criteria. For example, in Australia drowning is the leading cause of unintentional injury death in children ages 1-3 years. In Bangladesh, drowning accounts for 43 percent of deaths in children ages 1-4. And in China, drowning is the leading cause of injury related death in children ages 1-14.

The statistics in the United States are just as alarming. From 2005-2014, there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non boating related) annually in the United States -- about ten deaths per day. An additional 332 people died each year from drowning in boating-related incidents. About one in five people who die from drowning in the U.S. are children 14 and younger. For every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency department care for nonfatal submersion injuries.

More than 50 percent of drowning victims treated in emergency room departments require hospitalization or transfer for further care (compared with a hospitalization rate of about 6 percent for all unintentional injuries). These nonfatal drowning injuries can cause severe brain damage that may result in long-term disabilities such as memory problems, learning disabilities and permanent loss of basic function or even a permanent vegetative state.

Who is most at risk in the United States?

Males: Nearly 80 percent of people who die from drowning in the United States are male.

Children: Children ages 1-4 have the highest drowning rates. In 2014, among children 1-4 years old who died from an unintentional injury, one third died from drowning. Among children ages 1-4, most drownings occur in home swimming pools. Drowning is responsible for more deaths among children ages 1-4 than any other cause except for congenital anomalies (birth defects). Among those 1-14, fatal drowning remains the second leading cause of unintentional injury-related death behind motor vehicle crashes.

Minorities: Between 1999-2010, the fatal unintentional drowning rate for African Americans was significantly higher than that of caucasians across all ages. The disparity is widest among children 5-18 years old. The disparity is most pronounced in swimming pools. African American children ages 5-19 drown in swimming pools at rates 5.5 times higher than caucasians of the same age. This disparity is greatest among those 11-12 years old, where African Americans drowning in swimming pools at rates 10 times those of caucasians.