Inability to cope with unknown conditions contributes to drowning toll

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Every year, a number of Kiwis drown while spending their Christmas holidays around the beach.

Alarmingly, there were eight beach drownings in January 2015- just under the total number of beach drownings for all of 2014 (11 deaths).

There were 63 drownings in total during the 2014-15 patrol season (Labour Weekend to Easter) up 40 percent from the total number (45) the year before. Seventeen of those were beach drownings and so far in 2015, there have been 16 beach drownings.

As the Christmas holidays approach and Kiwis start planning their summer holidays, Surf Life Saving fears a repeat of last year's high drowning toll.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand National Lifesaving and Education Manager Allan Mundy says the key risk is the coinciding fine weather with the peak Christmas and New Year period when people are on holiday, often in unfamiliar locations.

"Unfortunately, a large number of beachgoers put themselves into unnecessary danger last summer and a large number of rescues took place outside of the traditional flagged patrol area and outside of standard patrol hours."

Mr Mundy has recently returned from the World Drowning Conference in Malaysia and says it has been estimated that most drownings are preventable.

Figures released in the global report on drowning prevention showed drowning to be amongst the top three contributors to human death in the world behind malnutrition and malaria.

"The number of people that drown each year is higher than the number of people killed in wars and through civil unrest. It also sits as the third greatest cause of accidental death in New Zealand."

Mr Mundy says there are a number of overarching factors that can lead to swimmers getting into trouble and they include ignorance or underestimation of their own ability, misunderstanding or disregard of hazards such as rips, the inability to cope when exposed to those hazards and lack of surveillance or failure to keep an eye on one another.

Mr Mundy says those planning their Christmas holidays should take water safety into consideration when planning their beach destination and visit to find the nearest patrolled beach to their home or holiday location.

"The beach is New Zealand's favourite playground but it can also be a dangerous place. Each beach is dangerous in its own right due to environmental factors. Even waist deep water can be life threatening if you step in a hole or get hit by a large wave. Learning about the risks and preparing yourself will mean you and your family can enjoy the Christmas holidays more safely, he says.

Two of the 63 drownings that took place last season involved would-be rescuers who became the victim while attempting to save another person.

Mr Mundy says naturally, when we see someone in trouble in the water, it is our instinct to go and help them.

"However, more often than not, the would-be rescuer also ends up in trouble because they aren't fully aware of the dangers," he says.

The universal Drowning Chain of Survival refers to a series of actions that are specific to saving someone in the water.

When you recognise distress, ask someone to call for help and dial 111. Find a flotation device to prevent submersion and remove the person from the water only if it's safe to do so. Provide care as needed and seek medical attention immediately.

"If people understand the steps involved in this process, it may significantly improve their chances of survival if they find themselves faced with a situation where someone needs help," he says.

The Surf Life Saving season is underway with over 80 patrol locations nationwide from the Far North to Oreti in the South.

Every year, around 4,000 volunteer lifeguards will spend over 200,000 hours keeping a watchful eye on beaches, helping to make them a safer place for Kiwis and their families to enjoy their summer.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand encourages beach goers to adhere to a few simple rules. Be prepared, watch out for yourself and others, be aware of the dangers and know your limits.

Key beach safety messages:

  • Always keep a very close eye on children in or near the water.
  • Get a friend to swim with you - never swim or surf alone.
  • Watch out for that rip - rips are calm, deep patches of water close to shore that can sometimes have waves breaking to the side. Rippled, discoloured or foamy water with debris can also mean there is a rip present.
  • Don't overestimate you or your children's ability to cope in the conditions. Preferably be in the water next to them at all times on a surf beach.
  • If you're away from home, check with the locals and ask them about the conditions and the safest place to swim.
  • If in doubt, stay out!


For more information, please contact:

Lisa Smith, Media & Communications Specialist, SLSNZ
Phone 09 303 9335 or 0276 488 823