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Source: Water Safety NZ

A spike in underwater, rock fishing and boating incidents has seen New Zealand’s provisional preventable drowning toll jump back up to almost the five year average after a drop in 2018.

There were provisionally 78 preventable drowning fatalities in 2019 which is an increase of 12, or 18 percent, compared to the 66 preventable drowning fatalities in 2018.

“Every one of these preventable deaths is devastating for a family and a community and has real and profound impact on many people’s lives,” says WSNZ Chief Executive, Jonty Mills.

“While our waterways are our playground they can be incredibly unforgiving and need to be treated with respect,” says Jonty Mills.

“The toll reflects the complex nature of drowning in this country. Drowning is not one dimensional. The numbers represent a wide range of age, ethnicities, activities and water environments.”

Of note are significant increases in Land Based Fishing (12 up from 6 in 2018) and Underwater Diving (11 up from 5 in 2018) fatalities. There’s also been a spike in Powered Boat fatalities compared to the drop in 2018 but the 11 fatalities is just above the 2014 – 2018 five year average of 10.

Jonty Mills says the satisfaction that comes from catching food from the water is not worth losing your life over.

“Obviously there’s a recreation and cultural aspect but sometimes there can be pressure to put food on the table, resulting in unnecessary risk taking and the potential cost is one no family wants to bear. It’s so important fishers and divers make wise decisions and follow best practice when it comes to water safety so they come home to their families” says Mills.

Best practice means rock fishers, net fishers and shell fishers wearing lifejackets and always taking a buddy. It’s also important to properly assess the conditions and be aware of the dangers and to have some form of waterproof communication with you so you can call for help if something goes wrong.

Lifejackets are also critical for boaties, in over a third of the 12 powered boating fatalities in 2019 lifejackets were either not available, or not worn correctly.

“The data constantly reminds us that wearing a correctly fitted lifejacket is the most important thing you can do when you are out on the water, and also taking two waterproof ways to call for help” says Jonty Mills.

The increase in diving fatalities highlights the importance of getting professional training, and always taking a buddy and running thorough safety checks before every dive.

“Also if you have been away from diving it’s important to get a health check from your doctor. Too often in underwater fatalities it’s the failure to follow correct safety procedures that leads to tragedy” says Mills.

It’s also been a tragic year for under-fives with seven preventable drowning fatalities in 2019 compared to three in 2018.

“The key message for under-five water safety is constant active adult supervision at all times around water and to avoid distraction. It’s also important to constantly assess potential water hazards around the home and take appropriate action” says Mills.

Preventable fatalities in the 55 – 64 year age group have gone up to 12 in 2019 compared to 6 in 2018, and the 65+ age bracket has the highest number of fatalities for the second year in a row.

“Older New Zealanders are staying active longer but it’s critical that everyone no matter what the age remembers the water safety code. Be prepared, watch out for yourself and each other, be aware of the dangers and know your limits.”

Read the 2019 Provisional Drowning Report

Non-fatal drowning statistics have not yet be analysed and will be available after March 2020 and included in the final 2019 drowning report.

*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 22/01/20