For Water Safety New Zealand chief executive officer Jonty Mills, keeping safe in the water is as simple as swimming between the flags in patrol hours.

"It's interesting that in 102 years of surf lifesaving they've never had a drowning death in between the flags on their patrol. That is across the country and really a good indication of the safest place to be."

Mr Mills said coastal beaches had ranked the second most deadly swimming location for preventable drownings in the past two years.

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According to data from Water Safety New Zealand's Drownbase there have been 35 preventable drownings, 26 male and nine female, in Hawke's Bay since 2007 with nil in both 2012 and 2017.

"In terms of surf lifesaving rescue locations in New Zealand Hawke's Bay isn't in the top five, but in saying that it was places like Muriwai and Piha which are obvious high risk locations so it doesn't necessarily say there isn't a problem in the region," Mr Mills said.

While it was hard to determine if rips had directly caused such preventable drownings, he said New Zealand's coastal waters were, by nature, more treacherous that most.

"We're a coastal nation with beautiful, idyllic Pacific island nature but our beaches are more treacherous than many other parts of the world by extension of the fact that they do have a lot of rips and currents.

"They are also very changeable so they're very unpredictable and that's where organisations like surf lifesaving are such a valuable resource and do such a fantastic job."

Mr Mills said there were several myths about rips; one being the fact that people drown because they're pulled under by a rip.

No one has drowned swimming between the flags with lifeguards on patrol. Photo/File
No one has drowned swimming between the flags with lifeguards on patrol. Photo/File

"Rip currents don't pull people under. People tend to drown in rips because they panic and then they become exhausted and they're not necessarily strong enough swimmers, or can't tread long enough, to survive based on the fact that they've panicked and become exhausted.

It was important that those who got into trouble in the water kept calm, he said.

"You should try to float with the current and not fight against it, but at the same time signal for assistance."

Mr Mills said high immigration numbers, an ageing population and an increasing interest in water activities were all contributing factors to New Zealand's "unenviable" rank in the developing world's preventable drowning toll.

"Ultimately what we need is that attitude and behaviour change towards water generally. It does need a culture change.

"We're not the fun police, we want everybody to enjoy the water in whatever way, shape or form they do but at the same time we want them to come home safe to their families at the end of the day."