Men are twice as likely to drown in Northland waters or be plucked to safety, according to latest figures from Water Safety New Zealand and Surf Life Saving Northern region.

Figures released by Surf Life Saving Northern region shows up to 70 per cent of water rescues in Northland in the past five years involved young men between the ages of 16 and 25 who overestimated their abilities and underestimated the risks while in the water.

From the more than 300 people rescued on patrolled beaches over the past five years, about 210 were Caucasian men between the ages of 16 and 25 years.

Asian crab fishermen at Uretiti Beach are frequently rescued. Photo / Greg Bowker
Asian crab fishermen at Uretiti Beach are frequently rescued. Photo / Greg Bowker

The figures followed the release by Water Safety New Zealand of provisional drowning statistics for 2015 which show 15 people drowned in Northland - four more than in 2014.


Ten males drowned compared with five womenand more people over 65 years lost their lives in Northland waters last year than any other age group.

Nationally, 113 people drowned last year with 24 of the fatalities being those ages between 14 and 24 years.

Ruakaka Surf Life Saving Club patrol captain Maysha Ahrens said most of the people she had rescued were male crab fishermen who were not wearing their lifejackets or swim suits properly.

She said males underestimated sea conditions and pushed their limits.

"They've also got in trouble by not swimming between the flags. We try our hardest to keep them between the flags, especially if the conditions are dangerous," she said.

Ms Ahrens has been a lifeguard for seven years and also patrols Bayleys' Beach during Christmas and New Year.

Northland was third behind Waikato, 18 deaths, and Auckland 16.

Of the 15 that drowned in Northland last year, four fatalities happened offshore, three inland, two each on beaches, rivers, and tidal waters, and one each in home pools and domestic.

Four were classified as immersion incidents, four other activities such as road vehicle accidents and suicides, two involved non-powered boat, underwater swimming, and one land-based fishing.

Four victims were aged 65 and over, three were between 35 and 44, two were between five and 14, a further two were between 55 and 64, and one each of the age groups 45 and 54, 25 and 34, 15 and 24, and up to 4-years-old.

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said the numbers were hugely disappointing.

"We're extremely concerned by this, and with school pools continuing to close and swim and survival lessons becoming harder to access, the situation could get much worse."

Northland Coroner Brandt Shortland in a report on the death of Chinese crab fisherman Heng Li on Uretiti on Christmas day in 2014, mentioned one of the common findings of water deaths related to males.

He echoed comments by Dr Kevin Moran, of WaterSafe Auckland, during the inquest saying, "Men overestimate their ability and underestimate the risks in the water."

Dr Moran suggested a collaborative approach between various agencies within Ruakaka such as police, Coastguard, lifeguards, and Water Safety New Zealand in a bid to reduce drowning numbers at Uretiti beach.

It was revealed at the inquest Li ventured out in choppy waters and drowned despite warnings about the sea conditions from lifeguards and a friend who tried to rescue him.