Drowning deaths in Bay of Plenty down by half but 'no reason to celebrate'

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Mount Maunganui lifeguard Kane Sefton, 21, on patrol at the Mount main beach near Leisure Island. Photo / Andrew Warner.

By: Sandra Conchie
Multimedia journalist
Bay of Plenty Times

This summer NZME is helping Surf Life Saving to help save lives. The charity relies on the goodwill of thousands of volunteers, fundraising, grants and sponsorship to keep our beaches patrolled. Here's your chance to help raise money for new equipment and lifeguard training.

The Bay's drowning toll for 2019 is less than half that of the previous year but water safety advocates say it's not a reason to celebrate.

Water Safety New Zealand data revealed there were five drowning deaths in the region last year, three of which were classified as preventable.

That compared to 12 deaths in 2018, of which 10 were preventable.

One person died while swimming, the other fell from a dinghy and the third was an "accidental immersion".

Two other fatalities were deemed non-preventable, a classification that includes events such as suicides, homicides and vehicle accidents.

Among the five deaths in the region was 52-year-old Kelly David Rae from Katikati who fell from a boat at Tanners Point on June 24. His body was never found.

Water Safety NZ's CEO Jonty Mills said our waterways were "unforgiving" and people needed to know their limits. Photo / File

Nationally, 98 people drowned last year with 78 of those deaths deemed preventable, Water Safety NZ's CEO Jonty Mills said.

"While the Bay of Plenty currently has three preventable fatalities for 2019, every one is a tragedy for a family and the community, and it has a real and profound cost to society.

"We need everyone to think about water safety over summer and respect the water. Our waterways are inviting but they can be incredibly unforgiving and changeable," he said.

Mills urged people to be prepared, to watch out for each other, be aware of the dangers and "know their limits".

"The Bay of Plenty has the fourth-highest regional drowning rate in New Zealand and over the past 10 years," he said.

The organisation's new Bay of Plenty Water Safety Strategy aimed to reduce drowning deaths and injuries and build a culture of safe enjoyment around water in the region over the next five years, he said.

It would initially emphasise teaching water survival skills to primary school children and engaging with Bay of Plenty Māori on water safety, Mills said.

Tauranga Harbour Master Peter Buell is imploring people to heed water safety messages, including wearing life jackets. Photo / File

Surf Lifesaving New Zealand's eastern region lifesaving manager Chase Cahalane said the biggest message he wanted people to take on board was "always swim between the flags".

"People need to understand their limitations and stick to them, and learn to recognise a rip, which often forms in quite small surf, and if caught in one to know what to do.

"People should also never swim alone, and if unfamiliar with the area, seek advice before going in the water," Cahalane said.

While the overall drop in drownings was encouraging it had been a busy summer with a number of rescues and lucky escapes, he said.

Aucklander Kenneth Hannon watching his children boogie boarding between the flags at Mount Maunganui beach.
Photo / Andrew Warner.

Aucklander Kenneth Hannon, 47, said he and his family are regular visitors to Mount Maunganui Main beach.

"We love coming to the Mount and my kids love swimming and boogie-boarding here but there is one main rule in our family, they must always do so between the flags."

"My children are good swimmers, but it makes sense to err on the side of the caution and listen to what the lifeguards advise us to do... They do an amazing job," he said.

Tauranga Harbourmaster Peter Buell said people on or near the water needed to follow the safety rules.

"I wish I had a new message for you but unfortunately, it has to be the same, as not everyone is as well prepared as they should be when they head out onto the water.

Buell said boaties needed to ensure they had all the required safety and communication devices and - along with jet skiers - wear lifejackets.

"If fitted right, lifejackets are comfortable and they do save lives," he said.

Buell also urged people fishing from the rocks to always wear lifejackets, following two recent deaths where people not wearing lifejackets died after being swept out to sea.

By the numbers:

Preventable drownings by region in 2019

Auckland: 17
Northland: 15
Waikato: 7
Otago: 7
Southland: 6
Wellington: 5
West Coast: 5
Canterbury: 4
Bay of Plenty: 3
Hawke's Bay: 2
Taranaki: 2
Marlbourough: 2
Tasman: 1
Gisborne: 1
Manawatu-Wanganui: 1

Total: 78

Source: Water Safety New Zealand


This article was originally published in the NZ Herald on January 8, 2020.