One in four Australians are weak swimmers or can't swim at all as the nation records an increase in drowning deaths, new research has revealed.
The Royal Life Saving Society estimated 40 per cent of children leave primary school without reaching basic water safety benchmarks like the ability to swim 50 metres or float for two minutes.
When asked about why they couldn't swim, 36 per cent of respondents reported fear of the water and 11 per cent said it was because their parents also could not swim.
Since the start of summer, 43 people have drowned, a 23 per cent increase compared with the same time last year.
Thirteen of those deaths were at inland waterways and the society's chief executive Justin Scarr said few people appreciate how dangerous rivers, lakes and dams can be.
"The calm appearance can often hide steep drop-offs, currents, and debris, and create a false sense of safety relative to beaches," Mr Scarr said.
He said the holiday message the organisation was "almost sick" of delivering was to avoid drinking alcohol when swimming.
Almost a quarter of those surveyed said they sometimes went in the water after consuming alcohol. Respondents from Queensland and Western Australia were more likely to admit to this behaviour.
Sports Minister Richard Colbeck said swimming teachers are being encouraged to return to the pool to strengthen skills and save lives.
"This season's drowning toll is too high," Mr Colbeck said.
"It only takes a few seconds for somebody to encounter trouble in the water and we know only too well the consequences this has on families."