Skip to content

Snorkelling fatalities

In November 2023, a member of the public was participating in snorkelling activities when for reasons yet to be established, was removed from the water in an unconscious state but later passed away.

In December 2023, another member of the public was recovered from the water and also passed away after also participating in recreational snorkelling.

Safety issues

As with any recreational water activity, there are significant and serious risks associated with snorkelling.

Key risk areas for snorkelling include poor medical fitness, inexperience, inadequate skills and panic. Serious injuries and deaths relating to snorkelling most commonly involve:

  • people with pre-existing diagnosed or undiagnosed medical conditions, in particular cardiac issues
  • being overweight or obese
  • older people
  • inexperienced snorkellers of all ages and gender.

People conducting a recreational snorkelling business or undertaking must ensure that they are prepared to respond to an emergency situation. This must include having supervising personnel, equipment and systems in place to:

  • recognise relevant hazards
  • recognise snorkellers in difficulty
  • undertake a rescue
  • provide first aid, including CPR, defibrillation and oxygen resuscitation.

Ways to manage health and safety

Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

The Recreational Diving, Recreational Technical Diving and Snorkelling Code of Practice 2018 (the Code) (PDF, 0.61 MB) provides practical guidance to persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) on how to comply with their health and safety duties when providing recreational water activities, in particular snorkelling.

The code outlines some control measures which can be used to manage risks related to snorkelling.

The person conducting the business or undertaking must:

  • undertake risk management at their own workplace to ensure the control measures chosen are suitable for the workplace and the tasks and activities being undertaken
  • ensure all snorkelling is subject to coordination by a snorkelling supervisor or other person or people who have been appointed for that purpose.

A PCBU must consult with its workers about risk management and any changes that may affect health and safety. During the consultation workers must be given a reasonable opportunity to express their views, raise matters and contribute to the decision-making process.

Snorkelling procedures should be documented along with the responsibilities of lookouts, the snorkelling supervisor and other workers with respect to health and safety. It is important that responsibilities are clearly allocated and the snorkelling procedures to be followed are known to all parties.

In situations similar to these incidents, snorkelling tour operators should consider the following to ensure the safety of their customers:

  • Ensure the lookout is solely engaged in being the lookout.
  • Increase the number of dedicated lookouts and in-water guides.
  • Enhance lookout scanning techniques by rotating duties and ensuring lookouts are able to focus on supervision without distractions. Lookouts should:
    • be in close proximity to the activities and preferably in an elevated position
    • be able to easily differentiate between a snorkeller who is conscious and floating, and a snorkeller unconscious in the water
    • observe snorkellers including when they are entering and exiting the water or are on the surface
    • have access to binoculars and polarised sunglasses so that visibility across and into the water can be improved
    • continually monitor the positions of the snorkellers, look for hazards or changes which may lead to problems and identify problems so that the operation can be adjusted as required, for example, tides, currents, marine animals, people skylarking, fatigue
    • wear a brightly coloured shirt, wet suit or other identifying clothing or equipment so the lookout can be recognised easily by snorkellers
    • be part of a communication system which is relevant to the site and which allows for necessary communication with people snorkelling and any other appropriate personnel so that effective and efficient transfer of information can occur. A communication system may include, for example, ordinary voice communication, a loud hailer, two-way radios, whistles or signalling
    • be aware of which people snorkelling intend to breath hold dive and provide them with additional levels of supervision.

The snorkel supervisor should:

  • assess and identify 'at risk' (age, health, swimming ability) snorkellers and provide them with additional supervision
  • advise all visitors to snorkel with flotation devices
  • arrange additional guided snorkelling tours and buddy pairs
  • ensure there are guides or interpreters available at the snorkelling sites to help with advice and queries; or
  • prepare and distribute translated information on snorkel safety. WHSQ has translated advice for divers and snorkellers in 15 languages including both simplified and traditional Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese
  • review and rehearse emergency procedures including rescue and first aid. Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) should have written emergency plans that are readily available to all workers. Workers should be trained so that that they are familiar with these plans. Plans should be developed for the following emergency situations:
    • first aid
    • rescue
    • evacuation
    • missing persons.

In many cases a combination of control measures will be required to minimise the risks to health and safety.

The control measures put in place should be reviewed regularly to make sure they work as planned.

More information

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

For advice and support: