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New Zealand Water Safety Month is approaching halfway and tragically since the month started six people have fatally drowned in preventable incidents.

“This is a shocking reminder of how many New Zealanders are needlessly losing their lives while in, on and around the water. Every fatality leaving a devastated family and community behind,” says Water Safety New Zealand CEO Jonty Mills.

“It’s also a tragic reminder of what we are potentially facing this summer. Large numbers of New Zealanders heading to our waterways and potentially more tragedy. One bad decision, one moment of over confidence or inattention can be fatal,” says Mills.

The six preventable deaths since October 16 include one person aged 0-4, one aged 25-34, two aged 45 – 54 and two aged 65+.

“This is also reflected in the data over the last three years growing numbers of older New Zealanders losing their lives in the water,” says Mills.

Preventable fatalities in the 55 – 64 year age group went up to 13 in 2019 compared to 7 in 2018, and the 65+ age bracket had the highest number of fatalities over 2018 (17) and 2019 (15).

“Kiwis are staying active longer but perhaps not making the necessary  adjustments and possibly ignoring the need to use a little more caution,” says Mills.

Of the four over 45 fatalities since October 16 two were swimmers, one was free diving and one was in a powered boat.

“New Zealand’s drowning problem is not one dimensional. The annual drowning toll represents a wide range of age, ethnicities, activities and water environments,” says Mills.

In 2020 despite the COVID-19 lockdown at the end of last summer 54 people have died in the water in preventable incidents*. In 2019 there were 82 preventable drowning fatalities.

“When we say “preventable” it means a water safety intervention could have prevented the fatality. Maybe it was overconfidence, a knowledge deficit or a bad decision  - Kiwis need to take more personal responsibility and respect the water,” says Mills.

“It’s so important people follow the correct safety guidelines for the aquatic activity they are undertaking and remember the Water Safety Code – Be prepared, watch out for yourself and each other, be aware of the dangers and know your limits.”

Jonty Mills says parents and caregivers also need to take responsibility for babies and toddlers around water. “Constant active adult supervision is the only way to keep them safe. Any body of water poses a hazard. It takes less than a minute for a child to drown.”

Water Safety Month is an initiative of the Safer Boating Forum and ran for the first time in 2019. The month was created to get people thinking about water safety as we head into summer.


For media enquiries please call Ben Christie on 021770285 or email

*Preventable 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). (WSNZ)

Six preventable deaths since the month began - Water Safety Month October 16 – November 18

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