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2018 Preventable Drowning Report (provisional)


Drowning is the number one cause of recreational death, the 2nd highest cause of death as a result of unintentional injury among 1 – 24 year olds and the 3rd highest cause of accidental death (behind road accidents and falls).

The water safety sector's most important goal is to reduce the number of drowning fatalities to 50 and hospitalisations to 100 by 2020 - according to the sector's 2020 strategic plan.

In 2018, 68 people lost their lives to preventable drownings and the five year average is 82 fatalities**.

The following analysis of fatalities is based on these 68 fatalities which represents a 26 percent decrease on 2017 fatalities (92). 2018 Hospitalisations are not included in this report as data is not available at this time.

Drowning is the respiratory impairment of lungs due to submersion/immersion in liquid.* It can be fatal (mortality), or non-fatal (morbidity).

Key facts

Preventable fatalities remain a 78:22 split between males and females.

There was a decrease in preventable fatalities on 2018:

  • from 92 in 2017 to 68 in 2018 (representing a decrease of 26%)
  • with significant decreases in Auckland, Canterbury, Southland, Wellington and West Coast
  • Waikato fatalities down
  • with significant decreases in the Under Fives, 15 – 24 years, 35 – 44 years and 55 – 64 year cohorts
  • with significant decreases in the Offshore (zero fatalities), Inland Still Waters and Tidal Waters environments because of only one powered boat fatality and no land based (shell) fishing.
  • in Rivers
  • with significant decreases in Boating and Underwater

 There was an increase in preventable fatalities:

  • in Hawkes Bay and Bay of Plenty
  • among the 65 year old cohort
  • at Beaches
  • with Swimming (up from 15 in 2017 to 22 in 2018).
  • angling fatalities
  • beach fatalities

Download the Provisional Report here


* International Life Saving Federation 2002.

** Provisional statistics only.



New Zealand has one of the highest fatal drowning rates in the OECD. The 2019 provisional annual fatal drowning report indicates there were 82 preventable deaths. Each one leaves families and communities devastated.

Our drowning toll is something every New Zealander should see as a national disgrace and one we all have a responsibility to address.


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