Water safety organisations from around the country gathered in Auckland last week to address the need to innovate and
adapt in a changing world in order to address New Zealand’s drowning problem.
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 61** preventable fatalities. The five year average (2014 – 2018) is 79.
There were 204 drowning related hospitalisations* in 2018. This is a 25 percent increase on 2017 and an 11 percent
increase on the five year average of 181 (2013 – 2017).
Drowning is the leading cause of recreational death and the third highest cause of accidental death in New Zealand. New
Zealand’s drowning rate per 100,000 of population is towards the top end of developed countries, and over the past ten
years the cost of drowning deaths and injuries is in the order of $4.79 billion.
The Drowning Prevention Summit was an opportunity for water safety sector members, partners and stakeholders to get together and share ideas around
the step change needed as the sector looks beyond 2020.
The water safety sector needs to secure long term support to ensure sustainability, adapt and become smarter and more
dynamic if we are to bring down our drowning statistics. Business as usual is no longer good enough.
“New Zealand’s drowning problem is a complex one. We have a very diverse and growing population with very high
participation rates across a wide range of different activities and aquatic environments” says Water Safety New Zealand
CEO Jonty Mills.
Mills warns of the widening gap between the water safety sector’s ability to meet growing expectation and demand.
“Sector resources are stretched beyond their capability. This is a sector which relies on volunteers and vulnerable
“The Government is supportive of the sector and the important role we play in keeping people safe in, on and around the
water. Discussions are ongoing to work out the best way to ensure the long-term sustainability of the water safety
sector” says Mills.
At the Drowning Prevention Summit Water Safety New Zealand promoted a clear and compelling vision of the desired future, identified the challenges the
sector must overcome and inspired leaders and organisations to become change-makers.
“In an ever changing and evolving world if you are treading water you are going backwards” says Danny Tuato’o the
independent chair of the WSNZ board.
“The challenges presented by climate change and rising sea levels are already being felt by surf clubs. The cost of
relocation will be significant for some and raises questions about how organisations need to evolve, and whether
efficiencies can be identified” says Tuato’o.
The future shape of the sector is part of the work of The Water Safety Sector Capability Plan which is a set of actions to be undertaken in the short, medium and long term to help address the water safety sectors’
capability, capacity and effectiveness in drowning prevention.
The plan has been developed, driven and owned by the four core drowning prevention agencies – Water Safety New Zealand,
Surf Life Saving New Zealand, Coastguard New Zealand and Swimming New Zealand, together with a number of sector partners
and interested parties.
“This work will inform the future direction of the water safety sector and help us to become world leading and I hope a
country where we work towards a zero preventable drowning toll” says Mills.
“A shift in the focus and delivery of drowning prevention activities in New Zealand is upon us. This summit was about
beginning the conversation. Preparing ourselves for change and how we can be most effective at drowning prevention. The
future starts today.”
*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