After eight water-related deaths since Christmas Day, Kiwis are being urged to only swim at patrolled beaches for the rest of the holiday.

New Zealand's drowning toll this year passed 100 yesterday, compared with 90 last year and, per head of population, is twice as bad as Australia's.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand chairman Geoff Hamilton says of the eight deaths in the past four days, none was at a patrolled location.

"I cannot stress enough, the need for people to choose one of these spots to swim at," he said.


"The beach is our natural playground but it can also be deadly."

Seven people have drowned these holidays, including four on Christmas Day, and 12-year-old Jack Martin was killed on Boxing Day when he fell of an inflatable sea biscuit and was hit by a passing vessel on Blue Lake in Central Otago.

Yesterday, a 50-year-old man freediving at the private Puatai Beach near Gisborne was caught in a rip just after 2pm.

His family were trying to revive him on rocks when the Eastland Rescue Helicopter arrived. However, the man died at the scene.

Water Safety New Zealand is next year targeting Kiwi men and boys, who make up 80 per cent of drownings.

It wants to eventually halve the male drowning death toll to around 40, but a "realistic goal" for the new year would be around 60, chief executive Matt Claridge said.

Males are often more involved in aquatic activities, he said, but that brought a higher chance of risk taking, and males were prone to being "pretty confident before they've even got any skills or basic knowledge, which is a problem".

Drownings in rivers and river mouths are a particularly bad New Zealand problem, as are the "cultural reasons for heading to the river", Mr Claridge said.

"Not many other countries in the world have Maori and Pacific people that gather kai to put food on the table. For some elsewhere it's a sport but here it's part of everyday life and that brings problems."

Two of his key messages were for parents to get in the water with their kids, and for men to wear life-jackets on boats: "They are absolutely no use to you in the cabin."

And if the weather conditions are poor, people should not head out onto the water, Mr Claridge said.

"Our message is, stop and think before going near the water."

Lifeguards from 74 surf lifesaving clubs are patrolling 90 of the most popular beaches across New Zealand.

Ten people drowned in last year's holiday period.

Another week remains until the end of the official holiday period at 6am on January 5 and Mr Hamilton hopes no one else drowns over this time.

If people can't get to a patrolled location, they need to consider the risks before entering the water, he said.

And when it comes to children, Mr Hamilton says supervision is key.

"You have to keep them within arm's reach at all times. It's as simple as that."

To find your nearest patrolled beach, visit