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Water safety investment in Auckland

Water Safety New Zealand is pleased to be investing in locally driven drowning prevention initiatives in Auckland with a focus on primary school aquatic education and water safety programmes in line with the Auckland Regional Water Safety Strategy.

In 2018 66 people lost their lives in New Zealand in preventable* drowning incidents. This was the second lowest toll on record, but already this year there have been 59** preventable fatalities. The five year average (2014 – 2018) is 79. Drowning is the leading cause of recreational death and the third highest cause of accidental death in New Zealand.

There were 218 drowning related hospitalisations* in 2018. This is a 43 percent increase on 2017 and a 15 percent increase on the five year average of 190 (2014 – 2018).

Over the last ten years there have been 166 preventable drowning fatalities in Auckland. Last year there were 14 preventable fatalities and the average over ten years is 16 (2009 – 2018). In 2018 in Auckland there were 56 drowning related hospitalisations*** up from 37 in 2017.

For a longterm culture change, WSNZ believes the best way to tackle New Zealand’s drowning problem is through investment in education in schools through our Water Skills for Life initiative for children in years 1 to 8.

This programme was designed by a team of experts backed by the latest international research as the most effective way to prevent fatal and non-fatal drownings for a person’s lifetime. It gives children the knowledge and skills they need to stay safe in, on and around the water for life long enjoyment of water

Water Skills for Life teaches children practical skills and how to assess risk so they have the tools they need to make smart decisions around water. WSNZ through Swimming New Zealand,  the John Walker Find Your Field of Dreams Foundation and Aktive Auckland Sport & Recreation will deliver approximately 50,000 school children in Auckland to participate in Water Skills for Life lessons with either school or swim teachers.

WSNZ is also funding programmes that meet the goals of the Auckland Regional Water Safety Strategy. This strategy is community driven and identifies the priority work streams and investments requirement for water safety in the region.

WSNZ CEO Jonty Mills says every region in New Zealand faces unique challenges in drowning prevention and solutions need to be community-led with real engagement at grassroots.

"We need a cultural shift in the way we approach water safety. We need communities to get involved and lead the change. Addressing these challenges requires engagement with community leaders who understand the issues. This includes engagement with iwi and Maori organisations in Auckland” says Mills.

WSNZ partners with Drowning Prevention Auckland (DPA) which is a lead water safety organisation in the region performing impactful work across a wide range of programmes and audiences. Specifically WSNZ is funding DPA to provide 50 early childhood sessions in Auckland for parents, teachers and children on pre-schooler drowning prevention.

Parents will develop knowledge, attitudes and behaviours to ensure pre-schooler safety in and around aquatic environments. Parents will also be introduced to the Water Skills for Life framework and pre-schoolers will gain knowledge of safe water behaviours.

As part of the Auckland regional water safety strategy DPA alongside Surf Life Saving Northern Region is delivering a water safety education, risk and awareness module as part of orientation for international students at the Aspire 2 Academy. 

This year new entrants to the school will go through the course as part of a pilot with a view to an ongoing programme. Most of these students are new to New Zealand and have very little understanding of New Zealand’s water environments and their risks.

Other WSNZ funded initiatives include the New Zealand Sport Fishing Council’s ‘Hiwi the Kiwi Goes Fishing’ show which will provide 5,000 students at 10 decile 1-3 schools in South Auckland and Waitakere City, with greater boating safety knowledge, attitudes and behaviours, especially towards lifejackets use. This will also create students willing to advocate to, and influence, parents on boating safety.

Waka Ama will be running a Youth Programme for Huli (Flip) Training course which will provide a huli session to 50 club members aged 6-16 in Manurewa. This will lead to increased numbers of waka ama paddlers with practical water safety knowledge.

WSNZ is also funding YMCA North to run a River Safety Pilot at Camp Adair. This river safety programme will develop and train instructors and lead to increased numbers of YMCA staff with practical river safety knowledge and the capability to provide river safety training to young people.

960 youth and young people will then receive river safety training during term one 2020 leading to increased numbers of young people with practical river safety knowledge and confidence around rivers. This will mean a cohort of young people able to advocate and influence others on river safety.

E-learning resources will also be developed, including videos and a river safety virtual reality resource. This will mean improved accessibility to practical river safety information and messages, and provide greater efficiency in their dissemination.

The successful Second Nature Charitable Trust ‘Wero Toru’ Introduction to White Water course will be supported again by WSNZ. This will see 2,375 year 7-13 students from low-decile schools receive a one hour instructional and actual white water experience on the Tamariki River including:

  • River safety theory and application
  • Experiential river crossing
  • Rafting Increased water safety knowledge and skills of participants.

This will lead to increased knowledge and confidence for participants when it comes to handling moving water or a white water environment.

CLM Otahuhu will provide 30 students from Mt Richmond special school with 10 Water Skills for Life lessons. Students will have the opportunity to develop knowledge, attitudes and behaviours to be safe in aquatic environments.

“The social and economic cost of drowning far outweighs funding to the water safety sector” says WSNZ CEO Jonty Mills. “We need strategic and innovative initiatives to tackle this important issue.”


For media enquiries or to request an interview 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 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 DrownBaseTM and the figures provided are provisional as at 23/10/19

***Non-fatal drownings that result in a stay in hospital of 24 hours or longer are classified as ‘hospitalisations’.

Water safety investment in Auckland

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