New data shows alcohol, drugs, tourists and young men who dare each other to swim the river are contributing to regular drownings.
Royal Life Saving figures released on Thursday show 37 drownings occurred in the 242km Yarra waterway in the past 15 years.
The 2508km Murray River had 70 deaths over the same period, despite being 10 times longer than the Yarra.
“What we’re seeing is alcohol as the main contributor, and that young male risk-taker,” Life Saving Victoria spokesman Paul Shannon told ABC Radio today.
“People daring each other to swim across the water … it’s actually illegal to swim in the Yarra River in the CBD.
“(They) think it is benign but the currents, visibility and what’s underneath … contribute to that tragic loss of life.”
The “Respect the River” report found 81 per cent of river drowning deaths involved men, most frequently between the age of 25-34, and drugs or alcohol were found their system in 51 per cent of cases.
Almost three-quarters of drownings were locals living within 100km radius of their home, the report also found.
But Shannon said, to his knowledge, many Yarra River drownings in the Melbourne city centre were still travellers from outside the area.
“They’re either international tourists or interstate tourists who really just don’t have that awareness,” he said.
“That it is a tidal river, that it is dirty, that it is cold … that there are unknown branches and twigs and holes and currents that you can’t see that make it so dangerous.”
The ‘Respect the River’ report found 1113 people drowned in Australian rivers, creeks and streams since July 2002.
There were 706 drownings at beaches and 634 in swimming pools across the country in the same period. In the past year alone 68 people died in rivers around Australia.
AUSTRALIA’S DEADLIEST RIVERS – 2002-2017
Murray River – 70 drownings (NSW, VIC, SA)
Brisbane River – 40 drownings (QLD)
Yarra River – 37 drownings (VIC)
Hawkesbury River 22 drownings (NSW)
WHO IS MOST LIKELY TO DROWN?
81 per cent men
74 per cent locals (living within 100km of the river)
30 per cent people aged 25-44
402 deaths in NSW rivers
318 deaths in QLD rivers
140 deaths in VIC rivers
47 deaths in SA rivers (87 per cent male)
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