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Record Low - New Zealand Drowning Toll

9 January 2006
Media Release

For immediate release

Record Low - New Zealand Drowning Toll

Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) has officially announced the provisional drowning toll for 2005, a record low toll of 103 drowning deaths in New Zealand. This is the lowest since records began in 1980.

WSNZ Executive Director Alan Muir is again delighted with the announcement; “it is encouraging to see the figures continue to drop from year to year. A record low is not reason to celebrate as the figures are released in the height of the recreational drowning season (summer), but they are a strong indicator in terms of authenticating the education work WSNZ coordinates."

The 2005 drowning toll is less than half the total drownings that occurred in 1985, twenty years ago, where records topped 214. The average annual drowning toll for the last five years is 121.

Historically drownings are assigned into one of two categories, recreational (in, on or under the water for recreational purposes) or non-recreational (no intention of recreating in, on or under the water). In 2005, 55% of all drownings were non-recreational based; the remaining 45% are recreational based. These figures are consistent with previous years.

Once again three quarters of all drowning victims were male. The total number of Maori drownings has reduced from 26 in 2004 to 18 in 2005 much in line with the strengthening presence of the Maori Water Safety Campaign, Kia Maanu Kia Ora. The number of Asian drownings has reduced also.

Inland waterways (rivers, creeks and streams) are still most dangerous with 29 drownings. Typically one third of all drownings are in rivers. Surf Beach and Rocky Foreshore drownings are the same as in 2004.

The most popular demographic for drownings is males, aged 15-44. This group form the target of most water safety messages, be it through educating on best practise and risk management through school programmes or specifically via key water safety messages through the mass media. There were 47 (46%) drownings in this age group in 2005 compared with 58% of the toll in 2004.

Muir continues: “it is pleasing to note that the typical kiwi male is starting to observe some basic water safety principles and warnings, as recreationally, boating, fishing and swimming are activities synonymous with the 15-44 age group. A reduction there is tempered however by the fact that there were seven preschool drownings in 2005. Three of which occurred in home pools. Sadly supervision is still an issue for parents and caregivers whilst around the home, more often than not due to complacency."

Land based angling drownings have increased to 10 (10%) up from 4% in 2004, along with a slight rise in the total number of all fishing related drownings. Scuba diving drownings have risen to five (5%) from 1% in 2004. There were nine drownings whilst swimming, continuing the trend that this category is reducing over recent years. Boating drownings are down on previous years with only 14 recorded for the 2005 year.

Muir concludes: “of the above major drowning sectors; preschool, males aged 15-44 and Maori are the central focus for 2006. WSNZ is driving significant programme developments geared at further reducing the toll in these areas as it evolves as a key agency and stakeholder in the implementation of the Drowning Prevention Strategy. WSNZ will continue to lead significant enhancement of water safety education programmes as it furthers its mission of preventing death by drowning through education."


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