Surf Life Saving New Zealand urges caution with record numbers of rescues already taking place this year

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

1st December 2021

Media Release


Surf Life Saving New Zealand urges caution with record numbers of rescues already taking place this year

With 1st December marking the first official day of summer, Surf Life Saving is reminding people to take extra care when they head to the beach.

This year early warm weather has already meant high numbers of people visiting the beach before the holiday weekday patrols have begun. Worryingly, lifeguards have already carried out record numbers of rescues in parts of the country this year, and tragically there have been several drownings.

Over the 2020-21 period, lifeguards conducted 513 rescues and assisted 1,142 people to safety. This year has already seen the Surf Life Saving Northern Region carry out a third of the number of rescues they would typically see in an entire year.

With the warm weather forecast to last through the summer and many New Zealanders about to leave the cities for beach locations around the country, Paul Dalton, Surf Life Saving New Zealand CEO, urges the public to take care.

“This year has been another tough year for New Zealanders as we continue to deal with the impact of Covid-19, and many people are looking forward to enjoying more freedom very soon. Surf Life Saving New Zealand wants people to enjoy a great summer, but we also want you to get home from the beach safely.”

With many people getting set to explore the country and visit new destinations along the coast, they may be unaware of the different risks that beaches present.  

Figures from the soon to be released 2020-21 National Beach & Coastal Safety Report show that 46% of New Zealand fatal drownings over the past decade occurred in the summer.  Over the last ten years, there were 167 beach and coastal drowning fatalities during the three summer months of December, January and February.  This figure represents nearly half of the total annual beach and coastal drowning fatalities recorded, highlighting the increased risk of the busy summer season.

Surf beaches also pose the greatest risk, with 36% of beach and coastal fatal drownings occurring at these locations last year. 

Figures from last year show over one-quarter of the total number of beach and coastal fatal drownings occurred while swimming/wading (28%). Other high-risk activities were snorkelling (20%) and boating (16%). 

Data also shows that more males are fatally drowning than females, accounting for 80% over the 2020-21 period.

“The best way to stay safe is to choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the flags,” says Dalton.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand will launch the 2020-21 Beach & Coastal Safety Report[1] later in December, which provides detailed information on drownings, high-risk activities, rescues, and emergency response.

“One of the key trends we look at is the average beach and coastal fatal drowning rate per capita (per 100,000 pop.) compared to Australia,” says Dalton.

Initial findings from the report reveal that New Zealand has a 44% higher ten-year average beach and coastal fatal drowning rate per capita (per 100,000 pop.) than Australia.  “That is hugely concerning and a trend we want to reverse.  Over the last ten years, there have been 357 beach and coastal fatal drownings in New Zealand. Each one leaves families and communities devastated.”


Everyone visiting the beach this summer should take note of these safety messages:

  1. Swim between the flags. Choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red & yellow flags – this is the safest place to swim.
  2. Ask a Lifeguard for advice. TALK TO THE SURF LIFEGUARDS. Even though conditions can change quickly, our lifeguards keep a constant eye on the beach situation as they continuously scope the beach for hazards, and keep on top of weather forecasts and understand the swell and tide conditions – they’re a friendly bunch too!
  3. Look for, read and understand the safety signs
  4. Know your limits. Don't overestimate your ability or your children's ability to cope in the conditions. Too many people get into trouble in the water because they simply overestimate their abilities and underestimate the conditions.
  5. Keep kids within arm’s reach. Keep your kids within arm's reach at all times in or near the water (close enough to cuddle) – rogue or large waves move really quickly and unexpectedly and can sweep kids away or knock them off their feet.
  6. Swim, surf, fish with mates. Always better together. There is safety in numbers. If you get in trouble in the water and you have your friends or family with you, you have instant back-up. They can help you out or get help if needed!
  7. To survive a rip: RELAX, RAISE, RIDE. Rips are a major hazard on New Zealand beaches and can be deadly. Learn the 3Rs Rip Survival Plan – it could save your life! If caught in a rip current, RELAX and FLOAT, RAISE your hand to signal for help and RIDE the rip until it stops and you can swim back to shore, or help arrives.
  8. When rock fishing always wear a lifejacket and shoes with grip (no gumboots) and don’t turn your back to the sea.
  9. If you see someone in trouble in the water, call 111 and ask for the Police as they have a direct line to Lifeguards and Coastguards.
  10. If in doubt, stay out!
  11. Be sun smart – slip, slop, slap and wrap to protect your skin and eyes from the sun’s damaging rays.



For further information, please contact:

Lwindi Ellis - Surf Life Saving New Zealand Senior Media Advisor

T: 021757433 | E:


[1] The National Beach and Coastal Safety Report 2021 contains information on SLS capability and membership capacity; rescues and emergency response; and fatal and non-fatal drownings for the period of 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2021.