Brave Kiwis trying to save someone else made up half the people who drowned over summer.
Thirty-five people drowned at beaches nationwide in the three months to February 28.
That was up from 31 in the same period a year earlier despite a drop in the number of beachgoers because of patchy weather, Surf Life Saving NZ chief executive Paul Dalton said.
"What is concerning is that around 50 per cent of the deaths at beaches were 'would-be' rescuers who perished while the person they went in to save managed to survive."
Among those to die saving others was Northland woman Fiona Gooder.
She was at Ruakaka Beach in February when her 8-year-old daughter, Arly, got into trouble in the water.
Ms Gooder's husband, Bruce Martin, was overseas when told of his wife's last act. The couple have two other children - Dillon, aged 12, and Jarvis, 7.
"She loved the kids so much," he said yesterday. "We're nudging along okay. The kids have their moments - they know their mum's gone, but they seem okay.
"They know that she died saving her little girl ... and they will grow up knowing what their mother did for Arly," Mr Martin said.
The spot was a family favourite and the children were comfortable around the water.
Ms Gooder was there with a family friend whose children were also present when Arly and the friend's daughter got into trouble.
Both mothers rushed into the surf and Ms Gooder managed to get her daughter safely to shore, on her back.
At the time of the incident, Mr Martin told the Herald: "The beachgoers turned around and Fiona was standing up.
"They were just standing there and thought she was okay and then two other waves came in and then - through just exhaustion, I think - it took her under ..."
Yesterday, he said: "Looking back, maybe if she had linked arms with Arly, instead of putting her on her back, she would still be here."
Since the tragedy, he had heard of several other cases where people had died while saving a loved one.
"I know we're not the only family who's going through this. There are so many other families out there who are feeling the same way as us."
None of the drownings were at patrolled beaches.
With the Easter holidays starting this week, people are being urged to be more aware when around the water - particularly at unpatrolled beaches.
"We're constantly working towards lowering New Zealand's drowning rate," Mr Dalton said, "and with patrols now coming to an end, we ask that people take responsibility for their own safety when around the water."
Eighty-one people drowned last year, down from 98 in 2012.