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6 January 2022

Fourteen people drown over the official holiday period - up 180%

Preliminary figures from Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) indicate that the preventable fatal drowning toll[1] for the official holiday period is 14, a 180 per cent increase on the five-year average.

 The five-year average preventable drowning death totals for the previous five-year holiday periods 2016/17 to 2020/2021 is five per holiday period. This year’s summer holiday period ran from 4.00 pm Friday, 24 December 2021 through to 6.00 am Wednesday, 5 January 2022.

 WSNZ’s Chief Executive, Daniel Gerrard said, “This is a horrific loss of lives and is unprecedented. It cuts through every age range, water activity and ethnicity. A common theme in these drownings was people underestimating the conditions and overestimating their ability.

 “This is a national tragedy. Every preventable death is devasting to a family/whanau and the community. It has been an exceptionally busy time for our frontline rescue services, Surf Life Saving NZ and Coastguard NZ, which indicates that the toll could have been much worse.

 “We are fortunate to have such dedicated volunteers helping keep Kiwis and visitors safe in, on or around the water.”

 Rivers (6) accounted for 43 per cent of the 2021/2022 drowning deaths over the holiday period. The five-year average for River drowning fatalities in the holiday period is one. Half of the river drowning deaths (3) over the 2021/2022 holiday period were aged 25-34.

 Beaches (4) accounted for 29 per cent of the 2021/2022 drowning deaths over the holiday period. The five-year average for Beach drowning fatalities in the holiday period is two.

 All but one of the 2021/2022 holiday period drowning fatalities occurred in the North Island (93 per cent), similar to previous years where an average of one drowning fatality occurs in the South Island per holiday period.

 Manawatu-Wanganui had four drowning deaths (all in the Manawatu River), Waikato (2 River and 1 Beach) and Auckland (all at Beaches) had three drowning deaths each.

 Two of the 2021/2022 holiday period drowning fatalities were 05-14, an age group with the lowest drowning toll with an average of three drowning deaths per year.

 Daniel Gerrard said, “While our waterways are our playgrounds, they can be incredibly unforgiving, and everyone needs to take some personal responsibility for their safety and the safety of dependants.”

 With the summer season set to continue for a few more months, WSNZ is appealing to everyone to make wise decisions around water.

 “We know Kiwis will continue to enjoy our beautiful waterways as the warm weather continues. We all need to take responsibility and think about water safety."

 Key safety messages include always taking a buddy, swimming between the flags at patrolled beaches, constant active adult supervision of children around water at all times, watching out for rips, and always wearing a lifejacket on boats and while fishing from rocks or net fishing. Boaties and paddlers also need to take two waterproof forms of communication with them whenever they head out on the water.

 “Remember the water safety code. Be prepared, watch out for yourself and each other, be aware of the dangers and know your limits.”


For further information, please contact:

Daniel Gerrard, Chief Executive, WSNZ
M: 027 478 1836


Holiday Period Fact Sheet 2021/2022


[1] *Preventable drowning fatalities are those where water safety sector intervention could have had an influence (for example where the victim was boating, swimming, diving) while non-preventable include events such as suicides, homicides and vehicle accidents (where water safety education and activity would not have prevented the death).

Drowning data is sourced from Water Safety New Zealand’s DrownBase and the figures provided are provisional as at 05/01/2022




































Drowning data is sourced from Water Safety New Zealand’s DrownBase™ and the figures provided are provisional.

Preventable fatalities include recreational and non-recreational drowning deaths. They do not include those fatalities classified as ‘other’ (arising as a result of road or air vehicle accidents, homicide, suicide or of unknown origin) as these are not considered applicable to the prevention and rescue efforts of the water safety sector.

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