Kia maanu, kia ora" - stay afloat, stay alive - is the mantra for the annual Te Taitimu Trust Camp which will return for a ninth year tomorrow.

What first started as a suicide prevention initiative in Hawke's Bay, in 2007, has blossomed into a fully fledged water-safety scheme targeting young, at-risk Maori.

"It's about uplifting them, stay afloat, stay alive, and water safety," the Te Taitimu Trust founder, Zack Makoare said.

The trust worked with children, adults and families who had never had the chance to learn the swimming basics.


Mr Makoare said it was especially important for Maori to be aware of the dangers and to know how to save themselves when many spend so much time in the water.

A Water Safety New Zealand spokeswoman said Maori made up about 22 per cent of total drowning fatalities recorded in the past five years.

This year, Mr Makoare said he was expecting nearly 300 people to attend which was a huge increase from the 23 people who attended in the first year.

The six-day camp included rafting at the Mohaka River, a day at Waimarama beach, pool safety and other workshops.

The trust had stretched beyond New Zealand's shores this year with 10 representatives from Hawaii, as well as some marine science students expected to attend alongside the locals.

Maritime safety advisor Rob Hewitt, who has his own survival story from 2006 when he got into trouble diving and spent three nights at sea, would also make an appearance.

The camp comes as Surf Life Saving New Zealand puts out a call for Kiwis to question their ability before wading into the sea.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand national lifesaving manager Allan Mundy said beach-goers needed to understand their swimming ability may not be as good as they thought.

"Knowing how to swim is not enough - you also need a good level of fitness to successfully get out of a rip and/or cope with big waves knocking you around," he said.

"Unless you've been swimming distances regularly, then you can't consider yourself safe swimming in moderate to large seas, away from patrolled areas."

Mr Mundy said getting caught in a rip meant having to swim in deep water for some time.

"You also have to remember that a series of big waves can keep you pinned underwater for up to a minute."

Surf Life Saving New Zealand reported six of the 10 drownings during the recent holiday period happened in non-patrolled coastal areas.

They took the provisional 2015 annual toll up to 23 beach drownings, more than double the 2014 total of 11.

Mr Mundy said although a number of factors contributed to the drownings they all were all at non-patrolled beaches.

Jimmy Atilua Laulu, 3, drowned in an unpatrolled area at Ocean Beach on Christmas Day.

His death came less than a month after Korean student Seunghyeon Choi drowned at Waitangi Lagoon, an unpatrolled area, in Awatoto.

"All beaches are dangerous in their own right and the beaches we patrol still have an element of risk.

But the difference is, there are lifeguards on hand to keep an eye on swimmers, provide advice to avoid problems occurring and the ability to rescue someone much faster if required."

Mr Mundy said, if people are swimming in areas where they could not see the red and yellow flags, then the odds were, lifeguards could not see them.

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