Lifeguard on Oliva beach. / LP

Spain's Ministry of Health issues drowning prevention advice as 406 deaths reported in latest annual statistics

The department advises that many accidents can be prevented by following a series of recommendations, and pointed out that tourists unfamiliar with the risks and peculiarities of local waters are often involved in such incidents


Drowning was the third leading cause of death in Spain from external causes in 2020, being especially relevant in younger population groups, according to the latest data published by the National Statistics Institute.

In 2020, some 406 people died in Spain - 334 men and 72 women - as a result of serious injuries in an aquatic environment and 461 people were hospitalised in connection with drowning.

In addition to drowning, every year there are cases of head injuries and spinal injuries, generally caused by recklessness such as diving from too great a height, not checking the depth of the water or, in the case of swimming pools, diving too close to the edge.

In 2020, some 61 people were hospitalised as a result of injuries caused by jumping or diving headfirst into the water – excluding falls – and eight hospital admissions were for spinal cord injury.

World Drowning Prevention Day

The Ministry of Health issued advice on how to stay safe on World Drowning Prevention Day, which was marked on 25 July.

"Risky behaviour in relation to drowning tends to occur in moments of relaxation in the supervision of minors, bathing in unsupervised areas or consumption of alcohol and other drugs near or in the water," warned the minister for Health, Carolina Darias.

In addition, a significant number of water-related accidents are related to medical conditions such as epilepsy. Tourists unfamiliar with the risks and peculiarities of the local waters are also often involved in such accidents.

"Drownings happen quickly and silently. Most of the time the victim has been out of sight for less than five minutes", the health department said.

For this reason, the government recommends keeping an eye on children at all times when they are in the water or playing near it and not delegating this responsibility to an older child. In addition, they insist on never leaving a baby or young child alone at any time in a bath or inflatable pool.

It also recommends making sure that the pool has a lifeguard and not to run around the edge of the pool or play at pushing people and urge that, if you cannot swim, or cannot swim well, use a life jacket for bathing and always use it for water sports. Inflatable floats are not recommended.

On the beach, the health department asks users to respect the meaning of the flags and always follow the instructions of the lifeguards. It also recommends that, if a person feels that they are being dragged by a current, they should swim parallel to the beach and, once they are out of the current, swim towards the shore.

In addition, the department notes that alcohol consumption reduces the ability to react to danger and that it is very dangerous to swim at night.

It also pointed out that diving headfirst from a great height, from bridges, trees or balconies, can cause very serious injuries and that inflatable objects should be used with caution, as they can quickly drag users out to sea.

The health department says that knowledge of basic first aid can contribute to a better response emergencies in the aquatic environment.