A sinister, black-clad figure started lurking at beaches and riversides last summer and he is back again this year.

The Swim Reaper - created by advertising agency FCB, is the skull face of the combined ACC and Water Safety New Zealand campaign to target the at-risk demographic of young men aged 15 to 30.

"This group make up a disproportionate amount of all preventable drownings, around a third of the total fatal incidents annually despite being only 14 per cent of the population," said Water Safety NZ chief executive Jonty Mills.

"Lives would be saved if young males simply made smarter decisions around water.

Advertisement

"We needed to find a way to connect with this audience in a genuine way so they were open to receiving water safety messages."

The Swim Reaper was launched on Instagram in December 2016 and by February 2017, the account had been viewed over 2.25 million times and had over 17,000 followers.

It now has over 100,000 followers.

The photos are comical (the reaper floating down river in a pink flamingo inflatable for instance) but the messages are serious.

The character is looking to "reap some peeps" from the water and issues warnings related to risks that young men are known to take.

"Think togs aren't your scene? You could always throw on some jeans.
"At least you'll get in some good cardio as you struggle to stay afloat," reads one post.

The warnings come under the heading of "Swimming Dumb" with the slogan "Swim Dumb and You're Done."

Last summer there were no drownings of those aged 15 to 30 over the official holiday period.

"While it is difficult to directly attribute this to the Swim Reaper campaign, the character has certainly brought attention to the potentially deadly consequences of making bad decisions around water," said Mr Mills.

Wanganui Surf Lifeguard Service will be supporting swimmers to keep the Swim Reaper at bay on Castlecliff and Mowhanau beaches this summer.

Promotions officer Daniel Comp said patrols will start on December 16 and may continue beyond the end of February 2018 depending on the weather.