National drowning figures for 2014, released by Water Safety New Zealand, show beach drownings are down 50% on 2013 and the five-year average, at eleven deaths.
Surf Life Saving New Zealand CEO Paul Dalton says it was a great result last year but the job is not yet done as the number of drownings so far this year is very high.
"The decrease in the number of beach drownings reflects the fact that fewer people went swimming at the beach last summer because of the poor weather, he says.
"The weather has been great so far this year and, naturally, visitor numbers have increased which in turn increases the risk of people getting into trouble on our beaches."
Mr Dalton says unfortunately we're only two weeks into the New Year and there have already been six drownings at beaches- which is already half the annual total for last year.
Mr Dalton says most drownings occur at unpatrolled beaches. If people choose not to swim at a patrolled beach, they have to find out what risks they may be putting themselves, or their children, into and take practical steps to avoid them.
Overall, 90 people - mostly men and including eight pre-school children - drowned in New Zealand in 2014. The number is down from 2013's final total of 107, but may rise as coronial reports are received.
Water Safety New Zealand CEO Matt Claridge says while the total numbers have consistently tracked downwards over recent years, New Zealand is still ranked amongst the three worst countries for drowning in the developed world.
"Disappointingly, adult men continue their terrible track record making up more than 76% of all drownings."
Rivers were the biggest killer with 20 of the 90 deaths occurring in this environment.
Inland still waters (with 18 deaths), offshore (16) and tidal waters (14) were where the bulk of the remaining drownings occurred.
One third of the drownings - 30 deaths - were 'immersion incidents', where people had no intention of entering the water.
Eleven of 2014's drownings occurred while the victims were swimming, ten while boating (motorised) and sixteen are attributed to 'other activities' (road vehicle incidents, suicide etc).
Five people drowned while land based fishing, and non-powered boating and water sports (such as boogie boarding or jumping into water) claimed an additional four lives each.
Just two regions - Marlborough and Taranaki - had zero drownings, while Gisborne, Southland, Tasman, Waikato and Wellington are all up on 2013.
Of the eight pre-school deaths Mr Claridge says the ongoing increase in the numbers in this age group drowning is a huge issue that requires more work, more education and more attention.
"If New Zealand's terrible drowning toll is to come down it requires a huge change in culture and behaviour. The water safety sector is working together to drive this change but communities, whanau and individuals all need to step up and say let's improve on our poor track record and stop the drownings once and for all."
To view the national fact sheet and breakdown of figures, please click here.
Other Facts and Figures
• Auckland - 36% of drownings were related to motorised
• Hawke's Bay - 83% of victims were aged over 45.
• Manawatu - all victims were aged under 25.
• Manawatu, Wanganui, Gisborne, Tasman and Canterbury - all were adult male drownings.
• Otago - the only region with more females than males drowning.
• Southland - includes three Germans missing, presumed drowned from a yacht.
• Waikato - over a third (36%) of victims were aged 15-24.
• Highest toll for Asian fatalities since 2011 at 10 deaths.
Lisa Honeybone, Media & Communications Specialist,
Phone 09 303 9335 or 0276 488 823