Knox County Drowning Statistics

Our vision at All Knox Swim is “A Drowning-Free Knoxville”. Having this as our vision statement requires that we gather information about drowning statistics in Knoxville, TN and beyond for comparison. Below is the information from various sources.

US Drowning Statistics

Sources: NDPA, CDC, NSC


The National Drowning Prevention Alliance is an organization working to prevent drownings on a national scale. They provide a database to partners (we are one!) so we can know and explore where they get all their information. It is very helpful. Here are some statistics from their website:

    • 23% of childhood drownings happen during a family gathering at a pool
    • Drowning is silent and can happen in as little as 30 seconds
    • 70% of childhood drownings happen during non-swim times
    • 88% of childhood drownings occur with at least 1 adult present

The most difficult to swallow is the last one. You would think that having an adult present in sufficient, but it isn’t. There should always be a designated Water Watcher.

Also, note that most childhood drownings happen during non-swim teams. That is why it is so important to have a barrier around the pool, as well as many other measures to keep kids safe around pools.


The National Safety Council Injury Facts is a database that gives you information about fatal and non-fatal injury rates in the US.

Here are some drowning statistics from 2021:

    • Drowning was the 5th leading cause of injury death overall with 4,337 deaths, which is 1.92% of all fatal injury deaths
    • Children less than 1 year old: 3rd leading cause of injury death with 38 deaths
    • Children 1-4 years old: 1st leading cause of injury death with 475 deaths
    • Children 5-9 years old: 2nd leading cause of injury death with 143 deaths
    • Children 10-14 years old: 2nd leading cause of injury death with 95 deaths
    • Ages 15-54: each age group has drowning as 3rd or 4th leading cause of injury death
    • The drowning rates drop as age increase after that

It is interesting to note that children are at an increased risk of drowning compared to adults. Also, though the numbers look small, children simply don’t die at high rates. So it is very significant that this many children die each year from something as preventable as drowning.


The Center for Disease Control is a federal program that is involved in disease research, immunization protocols, and statistical collection.

Here are some drowning statistics from the CDC

    • Drowning is the leading cause of death for children 1-4 (475 deaths, which is 13.5% of deaths for this age group)
    • About 8,000 people go to the emergency room every year because of a non-fatal drowning incident
    • Pools are the most common place children 1-4 die from drowning
    • The bath tub is the most common place children under 1 year old drown

Note that drowning is the leading cause of fatal injury AND all types of deaths for children 1-4.

TN Drowning Statistics

Sources: TNOSCME, TWRA, TN Vital Statistics

TN Office of the State Chief Medical Examiner

This Office is the overseer of each Medical Examiner office throughout Tennessee. They collect the data reported by each district. Here are the stats they sent us for 2022:

    • There were 122 drowning deaths

by Location:

    • 17 of them were in residential pools (about 14%)
    • 67 of them were in natural bodies of water (about 55%)
    • 21 of them were in a residential bathtub or hot tub (about 17%)

Toxicology (was there a positive alcohol or illicit drugs test from the deceased):

    • 48 had a positive toxicology report (40%)

by Manner of Death:

    • 95 were accidental (78%)
    • The rest were either by suicide (1) or unknown cause (27 total, 22%)
    • There are no homicides

It is important to note that more than half of drownings happen in natural bodies of water. That is why it is so important to wear a lifejacket and never swim alone. Also, 40% of drowning incidents had a positive toxicology report. I don’t know what was involved with the positive toxicology incidents, but swimming may not be a good idea while under the influence.

For confidentiality purposes, they were not able to send enough information to understand the breakdown by age group. What I can gather is 13 deaths occurred from age 1-4 (11%) and the highest drowning rates came from the 35-44 year age group with 21 deaths (17%).


The TN Wildlife Resources Agency has a boating sector. Here is what they sent for 2022:

    • There were 31 fatal boating accidents on TN waterways that were investigated by the TWRA and local authorities
    • 19 (61%) of them had a person who died from drowning, the rest were by other causes or unknown
    • Of the 19 drowning incidents, 8 were listed as “not wearing and not using a life jacket” and 1 was listed as “not wearing but using a life jacket”, the rest were unknown
    • There were no boating related accidents in Knox County investigated by TWRA in 2022

Would those people have survived if they wore a lifejacket? I don’t know, but I wish they did. 

TN Vital Statistics

The Vital Statistics office keeps track of rates of live birth, death, marriage, divorce, and reports of fetal death and induced terminations of pregnancy. Here is what they sent for 2019-2021:

2019 2020 2021 Total Percent
<1 0 2 4 6 1.85
1 – 4 5 9 9 23 7.10
5 – 12 7 1 7 15 4.63
13 – 17 3 9 5 17 5.25
18 – 24 12 13 7 32 9.88
25 – 34 18 17 11 46 14.20
35 – 44 11 16 14 41 12.65
45 – 54 19 22 12 53 16.36
55 – 64 23 14 10 47 14.51
65 – 74 9 11 8 28 8.64
75+ 6 6 4 16 4.94
Total 113 120 91 324

Tennessee has about 2.1% of the total US population. Tennessee had a total of 91 deaths from drowning in 2021. That is 2.1% of the total drownings in the USA, so our drowning rates are on par with our population rates. There doesn’t seem to be an obvious trend up or down, but 2021 had the lowest number of drownings in the three years listed.

Knox County Drowning Statistics

Sources: TN Vital Statistics, Knox County Health Department, Knox County Medical Examiners Office

Knox County Health Department

The KCHD is over the WIC’s program, vitals records, immunizations, and more. They only sent a bit of information. There are about 4-5 hospitalizations per year from drowning and about 7-8 people die from drowning each year. They did not share the outcome of those hospitalized. They also didn’t share anything about age groups.

TN Vital Statistics

They stated that in 2021, 4 people died from drowning and they were all 18 or older. This means that Knox County was responsible for 4% of drowning deaths in Tennessee for 2021. Knox County has around 7% of the population of Tennessee, so we are below that for drowning rates for 2021.

Knox County Medical Examiners Office

The Medical Examiners office is responsible for investigating sudden, unnatural, and unexpected deaths. Drowning is obviously included in that list. Here is what they sent for 2022:

Age Number of drownings Commercial Bath tub or hot tub Residential Bath tub or hot tub Natural Bodies of Water Pool Commercial Pool Residential Positive for alcohol or illicit drugs
0-24 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
25-34 3 0 0 2 1 0 3
35-44 2 0 0 2 0 0 2
45-54 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
55-64 1 1 0 0 0 0 1
65-74 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
75+ 1 0 0 1 0 0 0
Total 7 1 0 5 1 0 6

Other important information not listed:

  • Of the 7 deaths by drowning in Knox County, 6 were accidental and 1 was by suicide
  • Of the 5 deaths in natural bodies of water, 4 were not wearing a life jacket and 1 is unknown
Note that a vast majority of people that die in Knox County are in natural bodies of water without a lifejacket. That helps us decide how we can best serve our community to fulfill our vision of “A Drowning-Free Knoxville”.

What to make of the statistics

7 deaths in Knox County doesn’t sound like a lot. 5,899 people died in Knox County in 2021, so drownings account for less than 1% of deaths.

Though it doesn’t seem like a huge risk, our task is still important. Training a younger generation to abide by common sense water safety will change the culture. For example, if the next generation knows about when and where to wear life jackets, then adult drownings will decrease in the future. Also, those kids will teach their own children about water safety, which will continue for many generations! 

Another important factor is that people don’t just stay in one place. If a family moves or goes on vacation, they can take their water safety knowledge with them to reduce drownings in that area!

It would be great if the number of drownings for those under 25 remained at 0! There have been previous incidents for that age group, just not for 2022. Again, young children do not die at high rates, so it is important to note that a leading cause of death for children of all ages is drowning in the US.

An obvious target for possible interventions is natural bodies of water for Knox County. On the state and county level, reducing drownings in natural bodies of water should be a top priority as well.

If we can do our small part here in Knoxville while others do their part all over the country, we can make a huge impact!