Dawn Service Held to Commemorate World Drowning Prevention Day

Tuesday, 25 July 2023

The lives of those lost along New Zealand’s coastline have been remembered at a special dawn service on World Drowning Prevention Day.


Organised by Drowning Prevention Auckland and supported by Te Ahiwaru Trust, the service acknowledged New Zealand’s close connection with water, remembering those who have died and bringing hope to a safer future.


Last year in New Zealand, 94 lives were tragically lost during water-related activities – the largest annual loss of life in waterways in the past decade.


Of these fatalities, 85 per cent were males, with Māori overrepresented, and 35 of these incidents occurred in Auckland and Northland.


Nicola Keen-Biggelaar, Drowning Prevention Auckland (DPA) Chief Executive, said, “Drowning can affect anyone, at any time.  It is tragic and heart breaking, but it is also preventable.  We strive to educate local communities on drowning prevention, so they can return home safe and sound.”


One of DPA’s key drowning prevention initiatives is ‘float first’.  International research has demonstrated that floating in the first two minutes of cold water immersion has proven to save lives.


Keen-Biggelaar said, “Unintentional immersion in cold water can result in life-threatening cold shock response. Floating for one to two minutes allows the body time to recover from the shock and regain control of breathing and movements. If we can teach everyone to ‘float first’, we can truly give them a better chance of survival”


Last year, 19 people lost their lives while swimming in various locations such as pools, lakes, rivers, or the ocean. Notably, 37 percent of these incidents occurred specifically at beaches.  However, it’s crucial to note that there have been zero recorded drownings among beachgoers who stayed within the designated flags at lifeguarded beaches.


Andy Kent, Surf Life Saving New Zealand’s National Lifesaving Manager, said, “During the 2022/2023 season, our surf lifeguards patrolled 92 beaches, logging over 221,000 hours on duty, and successfully saving more than 1,240 lives.”


Kent emphasised the volunteers’ unwavering commitment to protecting beachgoers and ensuring their safety in the water.  “Every person who dies on our coastline is someone with a whanau and a community who loves them and misses them.  That’s why it’s important to swim between the flags, and during the months when our surf lifeguards are off duty, it’s crucial for all beachgoers to take precautions and be mindful of our safety messages such as ‘if in doubt, stay out’.”


The World Drowning Prevention Day dawn service was held on the shores of Te Manukanuka o Hoturoa, Manuka Harbour, near Makaurau Marae.  This location holds significant historical value, as it has been the start and endpoint of many great journeys on the water, following in the wake of Te Ahiwaru’s ancestor, Hape.