New Zealand's drowning toll took a significant dive in 2018, but Water Safety NZ says there are still too many people dying in preventable circumstances.

Sixty-eight people drowned last year, down from 92 in 2017 and the second-lowest total on record after 64 in 2010.

Water Safety NZ chief executive Jonty Mills said there had been a flip in age groups of those over-represented in water deaths - with more older people dying than those aged 15-24.

The number of fatalities in the 65+ group was 18 - five more than the five-year average. "

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"Eleven of these were immersion incidents, where someone has ended up in the water when they had no intention of doing so. Six were swimming incidents - so make sure you have support with you or swim in patrolled areas," Mills said.

The 2018 15-24 age-group toll was the lowest since records began. It was half of the 2017 total and almost half the five-year average.

Immersion incidents were the deadliest non-recreational activity with 28 deaths, followed by swimming the deadliest recreational activity with 22 deaths.

"Ten of the immersion incidents occurred at home either in home pools, baths or ponds which is a reminder to be vigilant about water safety in the home."

Mills said while the overall drop in drownings was encouraging it had been a busy summer of rescues and lucky escapes with frontline emergency services reporting record numbers.

"One preventable drowning is one too many. We need to see a continual downward trend in the toll over a number of years.

"The water safety sector is doing a fantastic job keeping people safe in, on and around the water. Frontline services, the likes of Surf Life Saving and Coastguard, are largely dependent on volunteers and donations to continue the important work they do."

Beaches had the most preventable fatalities with 18, followed by rivers with 13.

Eight fatalities at beaches involved swimming, while six were land-based fishing.

The Waikato region had its lowest toll since records began, down 55 per cent on the five-year average. Auckland and Bay of Plenty had the most fatalities with 13 each followed by Northland with eight.

"Always swim between the flags and, whatever the activity, follow the water-safety code: Be prepared, watch out for yourself and others, be aware of the dangers and know your limits," he said.

Another "big positive" was the drop in powered boating drowning deaths - an 83 per cent decrease on 2017.

"2018's total of five boating fatalities (powered and non powered) is significant when compared with the 19 in 2017 and the historical average of around 18 each year."

He credited Maritime NZ, Coastguard NZ and the work of the organisations involved in the Safer Boating forum for the impressive figure.

"A decade of work encouraging boaties to wear their lifejackets is paying off. It remains the most important thing a boatie can do to stay safe. In 60 per cent of all boating deaths in 2018 a lifejacket wasn't worn."

The under-fives toll was 3 - the same as 2015 and 2016 and a 57 per cent decrease on the 2017 toll of 7.

"Sadly, however, we've had three under-five fatalities already so far in 2019. We will continue to reinforce the message around constant active adult supervision of young children at all times," Mills said.