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The official 2018 calendar year drowning toll is down significantly on 2017 but the number of preventable fatalities involving people over the age of 45 is on the rise and Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) says it’s a growing trend. 

WSNZ has released it’s Drowning Prevention Report for 2018 in a new online interactive format which you can view on desktop and mobile and can be found at the following link:

A spike in drowning related hospitalisations is a concern as stretched frontline services such as Coastguard and Surf Life Saving New Zealand continue to rescue people in record numbers over the summer months.

While the final number of preventable drowning fatalities for 2018 is 66 (the second lowest since records began) down from 91 in 2017, the toll for those aged over 65 is the highest since 1990 and in 31% of those incidents drugs/alcohol was involved.

67% of all preventable drowning fatalities were people aged over 35. “In 2018 adults in this country continue to over estimate their abilities and under estimate the risks when it comes to water” says WSNZ CEO Jonty Mills.

“The high rate of incidents involving drugs and alcohol is a concern. Alcohol, drugs and water based activities do not mix and can be a fatal combination” says Mills.

Recent research by WSNZ revealed older generations do not consider themselves as at risk as younger people while the drowning data suggests otherwise.

Three years of surveying people around risk perception revealed the 65+ age group perceive those aged 15 to 24 to be at the greatest risk, while only 1% of the respondents thought it was their own age group.

The reality is the 65+ age group also had the highest number of preventable drowning fatalities over the last three years (41 fatalities over 2016, 2017 and 2018).

Preventable drowning deaths continue to be a largely male problem with men making up 72% of all preventable fatalities. However, the male drowning toll for 2018 is the lowest on record while the female toll is up 20% on the five year average. 

The rise in drowning related hospitalisations especially for young people is a concern. “There were 40 hospitalisation incidents involving under-fives. This goes to the heart of our active adult supervision at all times message when it comes to our little ones around water. You cannot take your eyes off them” says Mills.

A big positive is the major drop in powered boating drowning deaths - an 83% decrease on 2017. 2018’s total of six boating fatalities (powered and nonpowered) is significant when compared with the 19 in 2017 and the historical average of around 18 each year. 

Jonty Mills says credit must be given to Maritime NZ, Coastguard NZ and the work of the organisations involved in the Safer Boating forum.

“A decade of work encouraging boaties to wear their lifejackets appears to be paying off. It remains the most important thing a boatie can do to stay safe. In 60% of all boating deaths in 2018 a lifejacket wasn't worn.”

However Jonty Mills warns with six boating related fatalities already this year, there is no room for complacency. 


For media enquiries or regional breakdowns 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).

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

Older New Zealanders drown in growing numbers as drowning related hospitalisations spike

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