Thirty-seven thousand Auckland children are being given free swimming lessons in a bid to stop the high number of drownings.
Water Safety New Zealand has contributed $500,000 towards the Sport Auckland learn-to-swim programme, which will provide more than 320,000 free lessons throughout this year.
Sport Auckland chief executive Daniel Gerrard said it hoped the lessons would change the alarming fact that only 21 per cent of 12-year-olds could swim 200m - the benchmark Water Safety NZ considers necessary to swim and survive in the water.
"Last year, Auckland recorded its highest number of drowning deaths  since 2002. It's alarming when you also look at the declining swimming standards of New Zealand children," Mr Gerrard said.
Last year, 131 people drowned in NZ, a rise of more than 50 per cent on the year before - the worst annual drowning toll on record since 2003.
The learn-to-swim programme is part of the Greater Auckland Aquatic Action Plan (Gaaap), launched last year, which provides free swim and survive skill development to Year 3-6 children in decile 1-6 schools.
They are provided with eight to 10 free 20-minute swimming lessons from a qualified instructor. If there's no school pool, the lessons are held at a council or private pool.
Mr Gerrard said the additional half a million dollars would enable the programme to reach 200 more schools.
Water Safety NZ chief executive Matt Claridge said the joint initiative would play a significant role in helping reduce Auckland's high drowning toll.
Of the funding, $200,000 is earmarked for an existing learn-to-swim programme in Papakura and Franklin which will now come under the Gaaap umbrella.
The $300,000 balance is to combine with investments from ASB Community Trust, KiwiSport and Sir John Walker's Find Your Field of Dreams to enable Sport Auckland and the Regional Sports Trust Alliance to deliver swim and survive lessons throughout the wider Auckland region.
Mr Gerrard said the goal now was to secure additional funding to extend Gaaap beyond the current age and decile parameters, to deliver free swimming lessons to more Auckland children.
St Therese School in Three Kings participates in Gaaap, and its principal, Brenda Mauger, said there was a noticeable improvement in the children's swimming ability after receiving their free lessons.
"Some children were very nervous at the beginning, and it was quite amazing to see the progress they made over the 10 lessons."