Drownings killed as many people in New Zealand last year as in 2020, despite a four-month lockdown, and remains the country's leading cause of recreational death.
The 2021 Drowning Report released by Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) today has the preventable drowning toll at 74 – the same as in the previous year.
With 12 deaths, Wellington recorded the highest number of drowning fatalities since 1998.
Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Daniel Gerrard said 2021 had been on track to be a lower-than-average year, but December had recorded 20 drownings – the most in 25 years.
"Every preventable death is devastating to a family/whānau and the community," he said.
"Despite much of the country being in lockdown for a lengthy period again last year, drowning contributed to 74 fatalities.
"Our drowning toll is something every New Zealander should see as a national disgrace and one we all have a responsibility to address.
"We all need to make better decisions around water."
The findings show Māori and men are over-represented in the statistics: 84 per cent of the drowning victims are male.
Twenty-three of the fatalities (31 per cent) were Māori, despite comprising only 16.5 per cent of the population.
Most significantly, 96 per cent of Māori deaths and 100 per cent of Pacifica drowning deaths were men.
Over the Christmas and New Year period, 14 people lost their lives in New Zealand waterways – the deadliest holiday period for drownings in nearly 25 years.
The drowning toll of 74 is down on the five-year average of 80, but is the leading cause of recreational death and third-highest cause of accidental death in New Zealand.
The report shows Auckland, Waikato and Wellington had 12 drowning fatalities each. Deaths in the capital most commonly happened in the harbour, while fatalities in Auckland and Waikato were mostly at beaches.
Wellington's total of 12 drownings was up 100 per cent on the five-year average, and was the highest number for the region in 23 years.
Waikato's total was also up 20 per cent on the five-year average, while Auckland's fatalities were down 20 per cent.
Swimming – mostly at beaches or rivers - accounted for 31 per cent of deaths while boating accounted for 24 per cent. Underwater activities such as scuba diving, snorkelling and free diving accounted for 11 per cent.
Drowning fatalities also increased among older age groups, with deaths among those aged 45 plus increasing up to 50 per cent from 2020. Men also dominated the older age groups.
WSNZ also notes New Zealand's high fatal drowning rate compared to countries such as Australia, Canada and the UK.
Over the past 10 years New Zealand has had a rate of 1.7 drownings per 100,000, compared to 1.1 in Australia, and 1.3 in Canada.