Date: 3 January 2024
In a sobering update, Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) has released its provisional 2023 drowning
data, revealing a persisting challenge in our national drowning rate. Despite a slight decrease (4) in
fatalities compared to 2022, the figure of 90 preventable drownings remains alarmingly above the
10-year average, underlining a national crisis that WSNZ refers to as the "New Zealand Disease".
2023 Provisional Data Overview
90 preventable drownings, marking a concerning 10% increase over the 10-year average (82), and
only a marginal reduction (4) from 2022's 94 preventable drownings. 83% were male and 58% were
over the age of 45. There was also a spike in under 5 tragedies with 8 deaths being recorded, 3 more
than the 10-year average of five preventable drownings.
29 drownings occurring from unintentional slips and falls, accounting for 33% of total incidents, a
substantial rise from the 10-year average of 20. Swimming or ‘playing in the water’ resulted in 19
preventable drownings (21%).
Beaches (26), or 29%, rivers (24) or 27%, pools (11) and offshore (11) make up the most challenging
Powered Craft: 4 drownings, 4% of total, showed a notable decrease from the 10-year average of 11
drownings and a massive reduction on 21 in 2022. It is hoped that joint messages like those with
Coastguard NZ’s “Just Wear It” lifejacket campaign are beginning to be listened to.
Auckland experienced a worrying spike with 26 preventable drownings, surpassing both the 2022
figure of 17 drownings and the 10-year average of 16, highlighting an urgent need for intensified
water safety measures in the region.
“Clearly Auckland’s growing population, larger participation rates and warmer climate impacts this number, but there is considerable and long-term rate payer investment that has gone into attempting to address this issue. Perhaps now is the time to revisit how to support Aucklanders and Tamaki Makaurau more effectively.” Says WSNZ Chief Executive Daniel Gerrard.
Waikato also saw a dramatic increase, recording 16 drownings, which is more its 10-year average of
9. Hawkes Bay's 12 drownings, although notably 3 times higher than the average, is partially
attributed to flood-related incidents, reflecting the compounded risks during extreme weather
However, a positive note is seen in Northland, where drownings decreased to 4 from 18 in 2022,
significantly falling below the 10-year average of 11.
Gerrard says that “While it is too early to call, this decline indicates potential effectiveness in local approaches to water safety and a strong local push around behavioural change."
These regional disparities underscore the importance of tailored strategies to address the unique
challenges and leverage successful approaches in reducing drowning incidents across New Zealand.
Holiday and Summer Period Comparison
Holiday Period (4pm, 22 Dec 2023 – 6am, 3 Jan 2024): 7 preventable drownings, all male, aligning
with the 10-year average of 7.9 but lower than 2022's count of 9.
Summer Period (1 Dec - end of Feb): Provisionally 14 preventable drownings (as of 3 January), which
is similar to this time last year (15). Last year's 49 summer tragedies was the highest since the
summer of 1997/98.
Addressing the Crisis
WSNZ CEO, Daniel Gerrard states, “While any decrease in drownings is positive, we cannot overlook the fact that our numbers are still distressingly high. This is a national disaster that requires immediate and robust action. We are still seeing an unacceptable number of preventable deaths, especially among older New Zealand males who continue to make risky choices around water.”
Three-Pronged Approach Needed
Behaviour Change Campaigns: Targeted towards older New Zealand males, focusing on making safer
choices and understanding the risks associated with water activities.
Gerrard says that “Increased resources is necessary to expand meaningful messaging to this hard-to-reach bunch of blokes. We all need to have a think about our choices and how this might impact those loved ones around us….just have a Hmmm”
Aquatic Literacy for All Children: WSNZ continues is key role of advocating for the integration of more
prescriptive water competencies (aquatic literacy) into the school curriculum, ensuring every child,
regardless of socioeconomic background, has access to this basic human right.
“Learning to swim is a choice, a great choice. But it should be everyone’s basic human right to learn the essential life skill of water competence. Being able to float and move in the water along and having a basic understanding of our amazing water ways must be a minimum”, says Gerrard.
Floating For Everyone. Let's ensure that everyone – from the youngest child to the eldest adult –
understands the importance of floating, not just as a skill, but as a vital guardian against the
unforeseen challenges of the water.
WSNZ urges new government ministers to prioritise preventable drowning with the same level of
focus as road fatalities. This includes increased funding, policy support, and public awareness
campaigns to address this ongoing issue effectively.
“This isn’t just about numbers; it's about lives and communities,” adds Gerrard. “Our commitment to water safety must be unwavering, and it requires the collective effort of the entire nation.”
WSNZ would like to acknowledge the drowning fatalities in 2023. Our thoughts go to their whanau, family, and friends.
Ka maumahara tonu tātou ki a rātou, We will Remember them.
For more information, please contact:
Chief Executive Officer
Water Safety New Zealand
About Water Safety New Zealand
Water Safety New Zealand is the lead agent for Water Safety in New Zealand. It is passionately
dedicated to enhancing water safety across Aotearoa, New Zealand. While we recognise that New
Zealand's drowning rate has been higher than that of countries like Australia, Canada, and the UK,
we see this as a call to action rather than a setback.
We are driven by the belief that every life is precious, and we are committed to turning the tide on
these statistics. Our mission is to create a safer environment for individuals, families, and
communities by supporting them to gain better knowledge and skills setting them up to enjoy New
Zealand's beautiful waters. To achieve this, Water Safety New Zealand collaborates with a wide range
of water safety organisations, individuals, and the Kiwi public through focused leadership, advocacy,
Our primary aim is to significantly reduce drowning incidents and related injuries in New Zealand. We
strive to create a culture of safety and responsibility around water, ensuring everyone can enjoy and
respect our nation's stunning aquatic environments safely.