STUMP » Articles » Drowning Deaths: U.S. Geographic Differences 1999-2022 (provisional) » 28 June 2023, 17:07

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Drowning Deaths: U.S. Geographic Differences 1999-2022 (provisional)  


28 June 2023, 17:07

I was planning to have a follow-up to my earlier post on drowning, but recent news has pushed me to look closer at one aspect of these deaths:

Fox News: Former NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett dead after drowning in Florida

Former NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett has reportedly died at 35 after tragically drowning in Florida.

The incident occurred in Destin, Florida, according to Deltaplex News in Arkansas. Mallett was transported from a beach to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival, the outlet reported.


Mallett died in Destin, Florida. It was near near Panama City Beach which has seen seven people die in rip currents this month.

AP News: 10 deaths caused by dangerous rip currents off Florida and Alabama beaches

A firefighter from Georgia and two fathers who drowned while trying to save their children are among at least 10 recent victims of dangerous rip currents along Gulf of Mexico beaches stretching across Florida’s Panhandle to Mobile, Alabama.

Many of the deaths happened on days with double red flags — which are posted at beach entrances and on lifeguard stations to warn beachgoers of potential rip currents. Since mid-June, there have been six deaths around Panama City Beach in Florida.


While the popular Shark Week documentaries and the movie “Jaws” may have etched the fear of sharks into many beachgoers, drownings caused by rip currents claim many more lives. For example, in 2022 there were 108 documented shark bites of all types on humans worldwide, according to the International Shark File at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Of those, Florida accounted for 16 bites, all nonfatal, among the 41 in the U.S. There was one fatality in Hawaii.

Meanwhile, through June 24, 2023, NOAA statistics show 55 deaths related to rip currents in the U.S. The seven deaths in Panama City Beach came between June 15 and 24.

“Even if there are red flags flying, people look at the water and say, ‘Oh, I’ve been in waves that big before. It doesn’t look that dangerous,’” Dusek said.

“Many times people don’t think about it, and they’re caught off guard by the risk,” he said. “I guess that’s natural human mentality. You get to the beach, you just want to have a good time with your family. You’re not necessarily thinking about what can go wrong.”

Well, here I am, Ms. Death Actuary to remind you what can go wrong.

Drowning Deaths: Comparing the States

One of the issues in making comparisons between states on accidental drowning deaths is that many states have too few drowning deaths per year to show up — in the CDC WONDER database, if there’s fewer than 10 deaths, it’s “suppressed”, so that we can’t get detail on individual deaths.

The number of actual drownings in many northern-ish states of small populations is quite low in rate.

Except for one state: Alaska.

I assume that comes from their fisheries industry. Perhaps the cruises and people getting drunk as well. But basically, it comes from having a small base population, where two dozen drowning deaths per year leads to a relatively high rate.

Similarly, Hawaii has a relatively high drowning death rate, but has about only 4 dozen drowning deaths. It’s that they don’t have much of a base population — but I assume these drownings are boosted from the many tourists passing through. Just as with the other states with similarly high drowning rates.

I will note that Florida, one of the most populous states, with loads of tourists visiting its beaches, has a relatively level rate of drownings per year. It’s about 400 drowning deaths per year in total.

Louisiana also is similarly level.

But Hawaii and Alaska have rates that are highly variable, probably because much of their drowning deaths are driven by tourist deaths, and their base populations are low. It’s tough to determine appropriate death rates when it’s accidental causes of death for people just passing through.

Tile Grid Maps of Drowning Death Rates

Animated GIF version:

As you can see, there are a lot of empty squares for many years in the north, but in general, one does see that Hawaii and Alaska have the highest rates, and the Gulf states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana often have high rates.

So watch out for rip tides!

And beware of fishing boats in Alaska.


Go to substack post to download spreadsheet

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