Preliminary drowning toll figures released today show 23 more people died in New Zealand waters last year than in 2014, taking the 2015 drowning toll to 113 - a 26% increase on 2014's deaths, and well above the five-year average of 103.
Waikato has the highest toll in the country with 18 deaths, followed by Auckland (16) and Northland (15). Canterbury's figures show its worst drowning toll since 1995, with 14 deaths, while Otago (5) and Southland (5) both reduce their tolls from 2014.
Water Safety New Zealand Chief Executive Matt Claridge says the 2015 preliminary numbers are hugely disappointing.
"After having the toll tracking steadily downwards for a number of years it's extremely frustrating to be announcing a significant jump in the number of drownings during 2015."
"And with 86 (76%) of the deaths classified as preventable, this toll comes at a huge social cost. The impact of these deaths on families and communities is significant."
Just over 80% of the total drownings (at 91 deaths) were men, up from 70 in 2014 and ten more than the five-year average of 81 per year.
The biggest age group were 15-24 year olds, with 24 young people in this age bracket drowning, and Mr Claridge says this is very worrying.
"We're extremely concerned by this, and with school pools continuing to close and swim and survival lessons becoming harder to access, the situation could get much worse."
Mr Claridge says three pre-schoolers drowned in 2015, down from seven in 2014, but says the improvement is 'nothing to get excited about' with all three deaths having been preventable.
Figures show an increase in drowning deaths while boating (powered and non powered), swimming, and engaging in recreational water sports, while underwater diving saw a 200% increase on 2014 with almost all nine deaths occurring while diving without a buddy within visual distance.
Maori are again over represented in the figures with drownings up by 33% on 2014, at 24 deaths, as are those of Asian ethnicity (up from 11 in 2014 to 19 in 2015).
At 25 fatalities, deaths on beaches are the highest recorded since 2011, more than double 2014's toll of 11. Of these, 35% occurred on Auckland's beaches. Offshore, 24 people have died by drowning in 2015 - the highest toll since 2003 - with a 60% increase on 2014.
Rivers were again a location for a high number of drownings with 25 deaths occurring there, the majority of which were accidental immersions where the victim had no intention of being in the water.
An ACC and Water Safety New Zealand campaign launched in December urges people to 'Stop and Think Before You Go Near the Water' and Matt Claridge says if everyone did that, the drowning toll would come down.
"If we can get New Zealanders making water safety a priority, stopping and thinking about how to keep themselves and their families safe before they head to the beach, lake or river, we'll be a long way closer to bringing the drowning toll down towards zero."
The drowning toll for 2016 currently stands at 12 compared to 20 the same time last year.
Lisa Smith, Media & Communications Specialist,
Phone 09 303 9335 or 0276 488 823