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Ahead of the long weekend Water Safety New Zealand is warning New Zealanders aged over 45 that they have a distorted perception of the risk they face from drowning.

Three years of surveying people around risk perception has revealed the 65+ age group perceive those aged 15 to 24 to be at the greatest risk, while only 1% of respondents thought it was their own age group. The reality is in 2018 the 65+ age group had the highest number of preventable* drowning fatalities with 17 (12 male and five female) and also the highest number over the last three years (41 fatalities over 2016,17,18)

Those aged 45 – 54 years also perceived 15 – 24 year olds to be at the greatest risk of drowning, while only 2% identified their own age group. The reality is this age group had the second highest amount of preventable fatalities with 11 (Six male and five female) and also the second highest over the last three years (40 fatalities over 2016,17,18)

WSNZ CEO Jonty Mills says this research shows a disconnect between perception and reality when it comes to drowning risk. “People are staying active longer but we see it time and time again when it comes to drowning fatalities that people over estimate their ability and under estimate the risk” says Mills.

A closer look at the 17 fatalities for the 65+ in 2018 shows 11 of them were accidental immersions. “The number of immersion incidents shows how careful people need to be around any body of water, and especially if you have health or mobility issues” says Mills.

The data also shows that while swimming is a popular low impact exercise for older people, it comes with risk with five preventable fatalities from this activity. Five of the 65+ fatalities also occured in home pools. “From a drowning prevention perspective we would advise people never to swim alone or to use a supervised facility, where you have help if something goes wrong” says Mills.

Baths and spa pools all feature in the fatalities for this age group and four of them involved alcohol. “Avoid alcohol when you’re in or near the water and always make sure you have help nearby should you need it.”

For activities in the 45 - 54 year old age group that led to preventable fatalities in 2018 six were immersion incidents, two were land based fishing, one was kayaking, one free diving and one swimming.

Jonty Mills says this shows the broad nature of this country’s drowning problem. “New Zealanders love recreating in, on and around water but too many people are losing their lives. We want people to make smarter decisions so they come home to their families at the end of the day.”

WSNZ hopes this research will serve as a wake up call for older generations of New Zealanders. “I hope they will take a closer look at the importance they place on water safety, and recognise the risks when taking part in water based recreation” says CEO Jonty Mills.


For media enquiries please call Ben Christie on 021770285 or email

*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 drowning deaths include events such as suicides, homicides and vehicle accidents (where water safety education and activity would not have prevented the death).


Over 45’s underestimate drowning risk

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