How common is drowning in the US?

Updated: Jun 19, 2019
  • Author: G Patricia Cantwell, MD, FCCM; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
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Answer

While drowning deaths have shown a gradual decline, from 2005-2014, there were an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings (non–boating related) annually in the United States, which is about 10 deaths per day. [19] An additional 332 drowning deaths occurred each year in boating-related incidents. [20]  The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 3,709 unintentional drowning deaths in 2017. [21]

Drowning is the sixth leading cause of accidental death for people of all ages and the second leading cause of death for children aged 1-14 years, after motor vehicle collisions. [1, 22, 23] This averages out to about 10 deaths per day in the United States.

Approximately one quarter of these deaths occur in children 14 years of age or younger. Four times as many children receive emergency department care for nonfatal injuries for every child that dies. A bimodal distribution of deaths is observed, with an initial peak in the toddler age group and a second peak in adolescent to young adult males. Fifteen percent of children admitted for drowning die in the hospital.

Drownings tend to occur most frequently on weekends (40%) in the summertime months (May through August). Drownings are seen more commonly in rural areas and in the southern and western United States (62%). [24] In California, Arizona, and Florida, drowning is the number one cause of injury-related death.

Morbidity from submersion occurs in 12-27% of survivors aged 1-14 years. Preschool-aged boys are at greatest risk of submersion injury. A survey of 9,420 primary school children in South Carolina estimated that approximately 10% of children younger than 5 years had an experience judged a "serious threat" of drowning.

In 2008, the US Lifesaving Association reported more than 70,000 rescues from drowning at beach venues. [25] California alone reports approximately 25,000 ocean rescues on its beaches each year. More than 4.5 million preventive actions, including moving swimmers from areas of rip currents and other hazards, were reported during this same period of time. Approximately 1 in 8 males and 1 in 23 females experience some form of water-associated event but never seek medical attention.


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