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Lowering the drowning rate – it’s urgent!

21 October 2019

As New Zealand’s first Water Safety Month draws to a close, and with summer getting underway, the need for people to take care in, on and around the water remains urgent.

New Zealand’s drowning rate remains stubbornly high – seven more people have died in, on or around the water since Water Safety Month began on 18 October.

So far this year 64 people have died in the water in preventable incidents*, compared to 66 in all of last year - that includes 19 recreational boaties compared to just four last year.

Disturbingly, already 25 people have drowned at beaches so far in 2019 (from January 1 to October 31) compared to 23 for the whole of last year. With some of the busiest beach days still to come over the Christmas period that is not a good sign, Surf Life Saving New Zealand says.

Water Safety Month, a Safer Boating Forum initiative, is designed to get people thinking about preparing before they go in, on or around the water at the beginning of summer and before school holidays. It culminates this Saturday when Drowning Prevention Auckland will host an afternoon of education, aquatic games and activities and have-a-go sessions at St Mary’s Bay, Auckland.

The Forum comprises 24 boating and water safety organisations including Maritime NZ, Coastguard NZ, Surf Life Saving NZ, Water Safety NZ, Drowning Prevention Auckland, harbourmasters, the Marine Industry Association and many recreational organisations.

Forum Chair and Maritime NZ Deputy Director of Communications and Stakeholder Engagement, Sharyn Forsyth, said the first Water Safety Month had increased collaboration between organisations. “I think we’re getting better at sharing and working together to get water safety messages out there,” she said. “But the figures show there is still much work to do.”

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There are more programmes this year than ever before to help people keep themselves safe and they will continue throughout the summer.

Drowning Prevention Auckland continues to educate people from all walks of life, and in many different environments about water safety skills, its Chief Executive, Nicola Keen-Biggelaar said. “The drownings this month show there is more education needed and we are looking forward to demonstrating aspects of what we do at Water Safety Day on Saturday alongside many of the Safer Boating Forum participants.”

Coastguard NZ has expanded its Old4New Lifejacket Upgrade campaign, with the Old4New van visiting 63 locations around the country this summer. Maintenance and replacement is key to ensure lifejackets work when they are needed.

”We continue to see lifejackets in all shapes and sizes, some even 50 years old, and what a lot of them have in common is that in an emergency they won’t keep you safe,” Old4New Community Ambassador Sue Tucker said. “We need to be out in the community reminding Kiwis that lifejackets don’t last a lifetime.”

Surf Life Saving New Zealand says that the safest place to swim is between the red and yellow flags on a lifeguarded beach. Anyone who gets caught in a rip should remember and practice the three R’s - Relax and float, Raise your hand and Ride the rip to have the best chance of getting to safety.

Allan Mundy is Surf Life Saving NZ’s National Lifesaving Manager and says as the weather warms up people need to “think about their own safety” by choosing a lifeguarded beach, swimming between the red and yellow flags, wearing lifejackets when they are on a craft, checking the weather conditions, and being aware that the water temperature is still cold.

Water Safety NZ is reinforcing its message around constant active adult supervision of toddlers and small children at all times around water. Its annual funding round will this year invest $2 million in drowning prevention programmes. The main focus is Water Skills for Life training in primary schools.

Water Safety NZ is also investing in Māori drowning prevention and regional water safety strategies in the high risk areas of Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty. Chief Executive, Jonty Mills said this summer people need to take personal responsibility when it comes to water safety and respect the water.

“Whatever the activity, be prepared and know the risks, watch out for yourself and others and know your limits,” he said. “Learn about water safety and be careful out there. Our waterways are beautiful but also dangerous and if you’re not careful and prepared you can quickly find yourself in trouble.”

As well, Maritime New Zealand has put more money into boating safety programmes than ever before, including pilot training programmes for stand-up paddlers, kayakers and jet-skiers, Ms Forsyth said.

Boating and safety education initiatives will roll out throughout the country over the summer. For the first time, too, 18 harbourmasters are participating with Maritime NZ in the No Excuses programme which enforces lifejacket use and speed restrictions on the water.

“Our strong focus over the summer is to ensure that everyone can have fun on, in and around the water and go home safely to their families at the end of the day,” Ms Forsyth said.

* Preventable 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). (WSNZ)


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