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2018 Drowning Report


Tēnā Koutou,

Recreation in, on and around the water is a cultural and popular pastime for millions of people in New Zealand. As an island nation, our beaches, rivers and lakes are some of the most magnificent in the world. A moderate climate, accessible waterways, including public and residential pools provide ample opportunities for Kiwis, immigrants and tourists alike to recreate and participate in water sports and activities year round. This is part of the New Zealand lifestyle.

With any water comes risk and sadly every year far too many people lose their lives or are injured in, on or around the water. The real tragedy is that most drownings and injuries are preventable.

There were 66 preventable drowning fatalities in 2018 down from 91 in 2017. While every preventable drowning fatality is a tragedy for a family and a community, the water safety sector can take some pride in this being the second lowest drowning toll on record after 2010. It’s a reflection of the fantastic collaborative work undertaken day in and day out by the thousands of passionate volunteers who make up the vast majority of the sectors’ workforce.

However it must be acknowledged that front line services are stretched and the toll could easily have been much higher if it wasn’t for their efforts. My sincere thanks must go to all those working tirelessly in the sector, and to all the volunteers who give up their time to keep our communities safe.


While male drownings continue to dominate the numbers, the male drowning toll for 2018 is the lowest on record while the female toll is up 20% on the five year average. 2018 was an improvement on the previous year for toddlers and babies with three under - fives fatally drowning compared to seven in 2017. One is one too many. The total number of preventable fatalities for 15 to 24 year olds is the lowest since records began in 1980. It is half of the 2017 toll and the five year average. The toll for over 65’s is the highest since 1990. 65% were accidental immersions and 29% involved swimming.

Immersion incidents, where the victims had no intention of being in the water, continues to be the largest cause of preventable drowning fatalities (46%), followed by those who simply went for a swim which ended in tragedy (26%). Research* shows that while drowning is recognised as a problem by 84 percent of New Zealanders, (fifth behind child abuse, domestic violence, road safety and bullying) the reality is drowning is the leading cause of recreational death, and the third highest cause of accidental death in New Zealand.

The water safety sector is united in its commitment to the drowning prevention targets as detailed in the 2020 Water Safety Sector Strategy. While the toll for 2018 is encouraging, complacency can never be a factor and the hard work is still ahead of us. Every New Zealander must play a part in bringing about the necessary culture change and make water safety a priority in their lives.


Ngā mihi,
Jonty Mills

* WSNZ Attitudes and Behaviour survey 2018


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