Alcohol & Aquatics Research

Alcohol & Aquatics

Do they mix?

Alcohol and participation in aquatic activities remain a major risk combination for drowning.

WSNZ DrownBase™ reveals that between 2015 & and 2019, almost one-fifth (18%) of all drownings were associated with alcohol and/or drug consumption. This is probably underestimated as alcohol/drug intake was not known in a further 15% of all drownings, as it is often not tested (Pajunen et al., 2018). In addition, in boating research, alcohol has been detected in the blood in 30%–70% of persons who drown while involved in boating (IPRC, 1999; Driscoll et al., 2004).

In an attempt to gain a greater understanding of the situational contexts and motivations of youth to consume alcohol and engage in aquatic activity, DPA conducted a series of focus groups with 21 Auckland based youths, aged 15-17yrs (Mills & Moran, 2008). The study aimed to ascertain the personal experiences of observations of youth with regards the use of alcohol in, on and around water and examine the contexts, both social and situational, in which alcohol consumption and aquatic activity occurs to identify at-risk behaviours. Discussion revealed several surprising results and highlighted the extent of the problem within Auckland, especially around public events near aquatic environments. Significant gender differences occurred, particularly regarding the safety practices youth use to keep themselves safe. Significant gender differences occurred, particularly regarding the safety practices youth use to keep themselves safe. Based on the recommendations from the study, the working group worked closely with the Auckland Council to promote safer environments for youth around public events situated near open water.

In a further focus group study, many participants acknowledged that alcohol use during social activities in and around water added to the risks involved, in terms of the potential for injury or death. Key factors identified included an increased sense of confidence, impaired judgement, and impaired physical ability (Sinkinson & Moran, 2011).

Go hard or go home – A Perth based study explored and mapped young people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviours regarding alcohol consumption and participation in aquatic activities using the Health Belief Model. Focus groups were conducted with young people to discuss alcohol consumption and its combination with aquatic activity and media messages. Participants reported having consumed alcohol and participation in water-based activities, typically during social events and celebrations. It concluded that consumption of alcohol around water is common practice amongst young adults, increasing their risk of drowning. Young people are aware of the risks but also see a range of benefits (Abercromby et al., 2020).

Swim Safe Swim Sober – Royal Life Saving New South Wales (Australia) released the results of a study examining drowning in NSW and the influence of alcohol. Not unlike New Zealand, Australia is a nation of water lovers, but this love of aquatic recreational pursuits coupled with a few cold beers leads to an increased risk of drowning. Download the full report from our Related Files and visit their website for further information

Rivers – A further Australian study of 684 river users found 16% with a positive BAC. Those significantly more likely to record a BAC ≥0.050% at the river were: aged 18–34 years, resided in inner regional and low socio-economic areas, visited the river in the afternoon, with friends, on days with higher maximum air temperatures, frequent river users and those who spend longer in the water. River users who recorded a BAC ≥0.050% were more likely to self-report engaging in risky activities (Peden et al., 2018).

Other links:
Community Action On Youth And Drugs
Alcohol Healthwatch



Abercromby, M., Leavy, J. E., Tohotoa, J., Della Bona, M., Nimmo, L., & Crawford, G. (2020). “Go hard or go home”: exploring young people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of alcohol use and water safety in Western Australia using the Health Belief Model. International Journal of Health Promotion and Education, 1-18.

Chellew, C., Franklin, R.C, and Simmonds, E. (2009). Swim Safe, Swim Sober: A study examining drowning in NSW and the influence of alcohol. Sydney : The Royal Life Saving Society Australia, NSW Branch.

Coggan, C., Patterson, P., Antia, P., & Hooper, R. (2000). Evaluation of the ALAC Boating and Alcohol 1999/2000 Campaign. Injury Prevention Research Centre, Te Puu Taki Aukati Whara, Department of Community Health. University of Auckland. Centre Report Series No. 50 ISSN 1174-5371.

Driscoll, T. R., Harrison, J. A., & Steenkamp, M. (2004). Review of the role of alcohol in drowning associated with recreational aquatic activity. Injury Prevention10(2), 107-113.

Mills, C. & Moran, K. (2008). Do Alcohol and Aquatics Mix? The Context of Youth Alcohol Consumption and Aquatic Recreation. Research Report ‐ September 2008. WaterSafe Auckland Inc. (DPA).

Pajunen, T., Vuori, E., & Lunetta, P. (2018). Epidemiology of alcohol-related unintentional drowning: is post-mortem ethanol production a real challenge?. Injury epidemiology5(1), 39.

Peden, A. E., Franklin, R. C., & Leggat, P. A. (2018). Breathalysing and surveying river users in Australia to understand alcohol consumption and attitudes toward drowning risk. BMC public health18(1), 1393.

Sinkinson, M & Moran, M. (2011). Water Activities. Report prepared by Academic Consulting Ltd.

WaterSafe Auckland Inc. (2009). Auckland region alcohol related drownings – a study examining the alcohol related drownings in the Auckland region 2004 – 2008. WaterSafe Auckland (DPA).