Swimming lessons came in handy for a 1-year-old girl who fell off a Wellington pier and was able to float on the surface until her mum pulled her out earlier this year.

The incident comes as a reminder as we head into summer and the holiday period. Six young children drowned in New Zealand in 2016.

Mother Clare Tanner said her daughter Artemis, or Temi for short, was able to kick her legs and move her arms as she'd been trained to do to stay afloat.

The family live on a yacht at Chaffers Marina, so it was important to Tanner that Temi take swimming lessons. The toddler has been going to classes since she was 8 weeks old.

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The 14-month-old was able to test out her skills in August when she fell off the pier their yacht was moored on.

"She was veering too close to the edge, Tanner said. "I reached out to grab her, only she corrected herself back into my hand and bounced off.

Temi, one, has been attending swimming lessons since she was eight weeks old, mum Clare Tanner says. Photo/supplied
Temi, one, has been attending swimming lessons since she was eight weeks old, mum Clare Tanner says. Photo/supplied

"The thing is, they can sink really quickly and then you have to jump in and you don't know where they sunk to . . . the fact that she managed to stay afloat was, I think, the difference between having lessons and not having lessons."

Tanner was able to grab Temi by the ankle and drag her, soaking wet, back on to the pier.

"She's never really been in that cold water before," she said.

"The first thing you do when you jump into Wellington Harbour, it takes your breath away."

A friend of Tanner's died in Austria jumping into water that was too cold. The friend lost their breath and sunk, she said.

So for Temi, falling into frigid Wellington waters in August had the potential to go much worse than it did.

"She reacted well even though it was a cold shock. She kept floating and doing what she learned to do.

"When she fell off the pier she knew what to do when she was in the water. I've always figured that she wasn't going to be able to freestyle swim to safety, at such a young age, but her lessons have given her the ability to know what to do and keep afloat to buy time that we would need to save her in a drowning situation."

Tanner would have started Temi on swimming lessons even earlier than eight weeks if she could have, but needed to wait for the term to begin.

"The earlier the better."

Temi absolutely loved the water and was comfortable and confident in her classes.

She has been taking classes with Water Babies, an international swim school that begins lessons from birth.

The youngest pupil for the school started lessons at one day old, but the average age babies start lessons with them is six weeks.

Kelly Williams, who runs the New Zealand Water Babies in Wellington and Auckland, said there were many benefits for starting children early.

"A major factor in childhood drowning is the initial shock of falling into water," she said.
"Very young children react instantly to sudden and unexpected submersion, becoming temporarily paralysed with fear.

"One of our primary goals at Water Babies is to teach infants vital lifesaving kills right from the start, such as turning on their backs or - following a sudden submersion - swimming to the nearest solid object."

By the end of their first term, the typical infant would be starting to swim confidently underwater, unassisted.

Swimming in early infancy exploits natural reflexes that are lost over time, meaning a newborn baby has a greater affinity for a water environment than a 5-year-old child, Williams said.