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Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) has undertaken a strategic refresh to get greater cut through with its Water Skills for Life aquatic education programme for children aged five to 13.

Water Skills for Life is delivered to children in New Zealand primary schools. It is linked into the national education curriculum and gives children in years 1 – 8 the skills and knowledge they need to assess risk and make smart decisions around water.

Drowning is the leading cause of recreational death and the third highest cause of accidental death in New Zealand. In 2019 there were 82 preventable drowning fatalities.

The goal of this new Water Skills for Life strategy is to get more kiwi kids access to opportunities to learn these critical water safety competencies.

“Aquatic education is part of the New Zealand Curriculum and WSNZ would like to see Water Skills for Life  as an entrenched part of every New Zealand child’s early education. By year six every child should have these foundational skills and knowledge so they are able to assess risk and stay safe,” says WSNZ CEO Jonty Mills.

A refreshed and stronger relationship with Swimming New Zealand (SNZ) is critical to this new strategy. SNZ will lead the professionalisation of professional development for school teachers so more students will have the opportunity to learn in a school pool with teacher support.

“We agree this is key to the success of this programme and to bringing down our drowning toll,” says SNZ CEO Steve Johns. “We look forward to working together with WSNZ to deliver Water Skills for Life to as many children as possible through a more efficient delivery model.”

This refreshed model is the most effective way to achieve broad reach so more New Zealanders have a basic level of aquatic education.

“Currently we reach around 200,000 Kiwi kids through our annual funding round – it is our hope that through this refreshed model we will see widespread uptake of Water Skills for Life,” says Jonty Mills.

School principals whose students have experienced Water Skills for Life say the real world knowledge and skills taught in the programme are vital to growing up in New Zealand.

Jenny Williams is the principal of Totara Park School in Northland and says Water Skills for Life provides children with fun experiences in the water presented at their level so they get a lot out of it.

“Our children are surrounded by water and they need to know what to do if something goes wrong,” says Jenny Williams.

Water Skills for Life gives them that in a dynamic and fun way that stays with them.”

As a nation surrounded by water, learning practical water survival skills at an early age is essential for lifelong safety. By learning Water Skills for Life, not only will our children learn to keep themselves safe, they will also be taking part in an active programme that supports their health and wellbeing.

Water Skills for Life is the foundation on which we can build a New Zealand where everyone has the skills and knowledge to enjoy our beautiful waterways safely, and so we can work towards a future where no one drowns,” says Jonty Mills.


For media enquiries please call Ben Christie on 021770285 or email

New strategy to get more kids learning Water Skills for Life


Children learn these skills with Water Skills For Life

Click on each link to read about what's involved with each activity.

Water safety and awareness skills
  • Recognise an emergency for yourself or others. Know who to call for help and how
  • Know, understand and respect water safety rules, hazards and risks around the home, farm and around pools
  • Know, understand and respect water safety rules, hazards and risk in natural environments such as at the beach, offshore, river or lake.
  • Know, understand and respect water safety rules, hazards and risks for water activities such as swimming, water sports and boating
  • Know how and why t make safe decisions for yourself and others
  • Know how to recognise hypothermia and how to treat it
Getting in and out of the water
  • Get in and out of the water safely in any environment.
  • Perform this sequence with a buddy watching: check the depth of the water, check that the area is safe, jump into deep water, float on back for 1 minute to control breathing, return to edge and exit
Going under the water - Submersion
  • Get under water, open eyes and control breathing
  • Pick up an object from under the water
  • Dive from a horizontal position in the water and move underwater for a slow count to five
Floating on the water - Personal Buoyancy
  • Float, then regain feet
  • Control breathing while floating on back for at least 1 minute
  • Scull head-first and/or scull feet first for at least 3 minutes
  • Tread water for at least 3 minutes in deep water
  • Perform this sequence in deep water: correctly fit a lifejacket then tread water, scull, float or a mixture for 3 minutes while controlling breathing. Then return to edge and get out of the water
  • Perform this sequence for five minutes: signal for help while treading water, sculling, floating, or a mixture, and while controlling breathing
Rolling and turning in the water - Orientation
  • Horizontal rotation (front to back and back to front)
  • Horizontal to vertical rotation and vice versa (front or back to upright and return)
  • Vertical rotation (half rotation and full rotation) around the body’s vertical axis
What to do in an emergency - Safety of self and others
  • Float and signal for help with and without a flotation aid
  • Do a reach rescue and a throw rescue with a buddy
  • Perform this sequence: correctly fit a lifejacket, do a step entry into deep water, float in the H.E.L.P. position, then with a couple of buddies or a group form a huddle, return to edge and get out
Moving through the water - Propulsion
  • Move 15m non-stop, using any form of propulsion
  • Move through the water environments of all kinds (currents, waves, depth – in situ or simulated)
  • Move 50m and/or 3 minutes non-stop, confidently and competently – using any form of propulsion on their side, front, back, or a mixture
  • Move 100m and/or 5 minutes non-stop, confidently and competently – using any form of propulsion on their side, front, back, or a mixture


Click here for the directory to contact a Water Skills for Life instructor.
Click here for Database User Guide and School Resources


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