Water safety leaders call for caution this Christmas

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Eighty-four New Zealanders have drowned so far this year - including seven pre-school children, up on the 2013 total of five.

And as thousands flock to beaches, lakes and rivers to celebrate the festive season - which begins on Wednesday at 4pm and ends on Monday 5 January at 6am - water safety leaders are joining forces to call for caution.

Coastguard, Surf Lifeguards, Maritime New Zealand officers and many other volunteers will be out in force to help keep Kiwis safe over the official holiday period, but Water Safety New Zealand CEO Matt Claridge says, personal responsibility is key.

"I say it every year, if we're to get through the official holiday period without another New Zealander drowning we need everyone to make water safety a big priority."

Mr Claridge says it's hugely concerning that seven preschoolers have lost their lives to drowning so far this year.

"We're saying to parents and caregivers the only way to keep children under five safe is to keep them within arm's reach and line of sight at all times. It's that simple. No children under five should be drowning in this country."

Surf Life Saving New Zealand CEO Paul Dalton says there will be more than 4,000 Lifeguards on duty at around 80 beaches nationwide this festive season.

"The beach is New Zealand's favourite playground but it can also be a dangerous place. Learning about the risks and being prepared will mean everyone can enjoy the sun, sea and sand safely this Christmas."

Make sure you choose a patrolled beach - at - where you can swim between the flags and feel safe in the knowledge there are highly skilled lifeguards on hand, he says.

Coastguard New Zealand CEO Patrick Holmes says not wearing a lifejacket is the leading risk factor for boating fatalities, but other key risks include not carrying communications, not checking the weather and drinking alcohol.

"New Zealand's weather can be highly unpredictable, so make sure you check the local marine weather forecast before you head out. It's also a good idea to download the Coastguard app on your phone (available on both Apple and Android platforms), which provides up-to-the minute live wind data including direction, actual peak and average speed, weather situation and forecasts for recreational boating and coastal sea areas and tidal information including time and height."

"The five simple rules of the Boating Safety Code could save your life, make sure you follow them for a safe and enjoyable trip on the water - they are your best protection if the unexpected happens," Mr Holmes says.

Seven people drown on average (last five years) each official Christmas holiday period. Five people - four men and one woman - drowned during last year's festive season.

Matt Claridge says the entire water safety sector is aiming for a zero drowning toll this official holiday period.

"We just need the holidaying public to support our efforts and make water safety a priority this Christmas."

Note to editors:

The Christmas holiday period toll will be announced on the morning of Monday 5 January 2015 with the preliminary 2014 total number of drownings released on Monday 19 January 2015.

Water Safety Tips

Remember the Water Safety Code

1. Be prepared: Learn to swim and survive. Set rules for safe play in the water.Always use safe and correct equipment and know the weather and water conditions before you get in.
2. Watch out for yourself and others: Always pay close attention to children you are supervising when in or near water. Swim with others and in areas where lifeguards are present.
3. Be aware of the dangers: Enter shallow and unknown water feet first and obey all safety signs and warning flags. DO NOT enter the water after drinking alcohol.
4. Know your limits: Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience.Learn safe ways of rescuing others without putting yourself in danger.

Beach Safety Tips - provided by Surf Life Saving New Zealand

  • Find a beach that is patrolled - be prepared (
  • Listen to the advice of lifeguards.
  • Always keep an eye on children in the water.
  • Get a friend to swim with you - never swim or surf alone.
  • Stay between the flags.
  • Watch out for that rip - rips are calm patches of water that can sometimes have waves breaking to the side. Rippled, discoloured or foamy water with debris can also mean there is a rip present.
  • Be smart around rocks: Whether fishing or exploring at the beach, rocky outcrops can be very dangerous in large surf. When fishing, always wear a lifejacket. Never stand on a rock outcrop that is already wet (a sure sign waves will be washing over it) and always face the ocean; never turn your back on the sea.

Boating Safety Tips - provided by Coastguard

  • Life Jackets: Take them - Wear them
    Boats, especially ones under 6m in length, can sink very quickly. Wearing a life jacket increases your survival time in the water.
  • Skipper Responsibility
    The skipper is responsible for the safety of everyone on board and for the safe operation of the boat. Stay within the limits of your vessel and your experience. Take a Coastguard Boating Education Course, like Day Skipper, Boatmaster and marine VHF radio training -
  • Communications
    Take two separate waterproof ways of communicating so we can help you if you get into difficulties.
  • Marine Weather 
    New Zealand's weather can be highly unpredictable. Check the local marine weather forecast before you go and expect both weather and sea state changes.
  • Avoid Alcohol 
    Safe boating and alcohol do not mix. Things can change quickly on the water. You need to stay alert and be aware.

Water Safety Tips for Parents/Caregivers of Pre-Schoolers - provided by WSNZ

Keep under fives within arm's reach at all times - It only takes sixty seconds and around five centimetres of water for a child to drown.

  • Always empty and store paddling pools and water containers after use and ensure you have a safely fenced play area.
  • Identify water hazards in and around your home and ensure your children can't reach them.
  • If you're in a group of people, ensure you have an active supervision roster so you know who is watching the children at all times.
  • Make sure older children don't have to take responsibility for younger children.
  • Teach your children water safety behaviour from as soon as they are old enough to understand, things like: 'Never go near the water unless you're with a grown up'.

For further information or comment please contact:

Surf Life Saving New Zealand
Lisa Honeybone 0276488823

Coastguard New Zealand
Monique Caddy 021 420 653

Water Safety New Zealand
Matt Claridge 027 4781836 or Wendy Pannett 021 440 891

Maritime New Zealand
Media Line 04 499 7318