Poor education swimmers' bane

A Bay of Plenty surf lifesaving manager says a recent spate of New Zealand drownings is due to lack of education.

"A lot of locals just swim opposite their house along that stretch and nine times out of 10 that might be all right," said Michael Lord, regional surf lifesaving programmes and services manager.

"But the tenth time they probably haven't quite read what the conditions are like and can easily get into trouble."

Mr Lord said lack of education was the biggest issue facing water safety in the Bay of Plenty region, combined some water-goers' over-confidence in their abilities.

"There's definitely a need for some more education and signage in difficult areas."

Three people have drowned locally in land-based fishing activities this year and one person drowned in a power boat-related incident.

Sixty people have died in New Zealand waters during the same period which is 20 fewer than at the same time last year. The victims are predominantly young and middle-aged men who are drowning in and around the sea.

Mr Lord said misuse of equipment was another problem, and people standing up in their boats then falling over.

"Last year I think there was about three drownings within the harbour," he said.

"It's just misuse of equipment, just trying to pull up nets and tipping the boat over and not having life jackets on."

Police are still looking for the bodies of two men after three people were swept away while rock climbing at Paritutu Rock in New Plymouth on August 8.

A Wellington man drowned on Saturday after his boat capsized while he was fishing with a friend in Wellington Harbour.

And Tayne Bowes, 9, drowned on August 12 when his father's four-wheel-drive plunged into a gold mine pond near Hokitika.

Drowning has been described as a "community issue" affecting anyone irrespective of age, ethnicity, gender or wealth.

It is consistently the third highest cause of unintentional death in New Zealand, surpassed only by road vehicle crashes and accidental falls.

The Department of Conservation was charged last week after the death of a volunteer who is believed to have been swept out to sea while working on Raoul Island in January.

And a coroner's inquest in Auckland this week probed the deaths of two men who drowned on a training dive on the city's North Shore last year.

In March, eight people died off the coast of Stewart Island when ill-fated fishing vessel Easy Rider was hit by a large wave and flipped.

Maritime New Zealand safety inspector Alistair Thomson said half of all recreational boating deaths could have been avoided if victims had worn life jackets.

But it was also crucial to carry communications equipment on board a vessel.

"Carry a waterproof hand-held VHF radio or an emergency locator beacon on your person," Mr Thomson said.

Weather conditions and a lack of planning were the other key contributors to recreational boating fatalities, Mr Thomson said.

However, the news is not all bleak. Water Safety New Zealand and its members have achieved considerable success at reducing the drowning death toll since its inception in 1949.

During the past 29 years drowning numbers have fallen 60 per since a record high in 1985 of 215, to a record low of 87 in 2010.

The World Health Organisation found that drowning is the third leading cause of unintentional injury death worldwide, accounting for 7 per cent of all injury-related deaths. An estimated 388,000 people drown each year.


  • Four people have drowned in the Bay of Plenty this year

  • 55 men and five women have died nationwide

  • The biggest demographic for drownings are New Zealand Europeans (27) followed by Maori (16)

  • Most drownings have occurred offshore (18), at beaches (12) and in tidal waters (11)

  • 15 have involved a power boat, 13 water sport/recreation and 11 "other activities" (road vehicle accidents, suicides etc)

  • Most drowning victims were aged 45 to 54, closely followed by 25- to 34-year-olds

  • In 2011, 12 drownings occurred in the Bay of Plenty

- Bay of Plenty Times

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