Snorkelling-related deaths in Australia, 1994–2006

John M Lippmann and John H Pearn
Med J Aust 2012; 197 (4): 230-232. || doi: 10.5694/mja11.10988


Objective: To examine the frequency and causes of snorkelling-related deaths in Australia.

Design, setting and subjects: We conducted a retrospective analysis of snorkelling-related deaths recorded in Australia from 1994 to 2006 inclusive, based on information from the Divers Alert Network Asia–Pacific database, the National Coroners Information System, coronial files from all states and territories, and annual national drowning reports.

Main outcome measures: Number and attributed causes of snorkelling-related deaths.

Results: We identified 140 snorkelling-related deaths. Forensic details were available for 130 of these. Four principal cause-of-death categories were identified: deaths from cardiac or suspected cardiac causes (60), deaths from surface drowning (largely in inexperienced snorkellers) (33), deaths from drowning after prolonged breath-hold diving (largely in experienced divers) (19), and deaths from trauma (10). Eight people died of other causes.

Conclusions: In the context of the large population sampled, snorkelling-related deaths are rare. Preventive measures for such deaths could include pre-dive medical assessments for people with a history of cardiac or respiratory disease or with a family history of sudden unexpected death; improved training in how to use snorkelling equipment; better matching of skills to health, fitness and water conditions; better supervision and quality training of supervisors in rescue and resuscitation techniques; and avoidance of hyperventilation before breath-hold diving.

  • John M Lippmann1,2
  • John H Pearn3,0

  • 1 Divers Alert Network Asia–Pacific, Melbourne, VIC.
  • 2 James Cook University, Townsville, QLD.
  • 3 Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, Royal Children’s Hospital, Brisbane, QLD.
  • 4 Royal Life Saving Society Australia, Sydney, NSW.



We acknowledge the assistance of the National Coroners Information System and are grateful for access to coronial data from the coroners’ offices of the states and territories. We also acknowledge DAN Asia–Pacific for funding this continued research.

Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

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