EMS & Injury Prevention System Branch | Information on Drowning Prevention
Drowning is the 5th leading cause of fatal injuries in Hawaii, with 385 drowning fatalities occurring during the 5-year period from 2010-2014, averaging 57 per year. Among non-residents during this time period, drownings were the 3rd leading cause of any type of death, behind heart disease and cancer, and the leading cause of injury-related death, ahead of suicide, falls, motor vehicle crashes, and other causes. Compared to non-residents (183), there were slightly less resident drowning deaths during this time period (176), mostly while swimming, free diving, and unknown activity. Most non-resident drowning deaths occurred while snorkeling, swimming and unknown activity. The rate of fatal ocean drowning for non-residents in Hawaii is about eight times higher than for residents. Kauai has the highest ten year rate (/100,000) of total (resident and non-resident) fatal ocean drownings (82.5), followed by Maui (64.6), Big Island (51.8) and Oahu (27.2).
For every fatal drowning, it is estimated that 13 non-fatal drownings occur, some of which may be associated with long term disability. In addition to the pain and suffering, the “comprehensive effects of drowning include the economic loss (victim’s productivity loss and the expenses relating to the event) and the value of lost quality of life associated with the death or injury.” (Lifeguard Effectiveness: A Report of the Working Group, CDC 2001). The United States Lifesaving Association estimates that that one percent of the total rescues made by lifeguards would have resulted in a drowning death in the absence of lifeguards. In 2015 alone, county ocean lifeguards in the state of Hawaii reported performing over 4,000 ocean rescues.