The Bay of Plenty recorded one of the highest rates of preventable drownings in 2018, according to new data.

Water Safety New Zealand data showed 13 preventable drownings were recorded in the region last year - one behind Auckland and second equal to Northland.

Two of the drownings were in Tauranga and four were in the Western Bay of Plenty.

The majority of the 13 drownings happened at home pools. Four incidents were in spa pools and one each in a bath and swimming pool. Only two happened at beaches.

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Of the 11 men and two women who drowned, five were New Zealand European, four were Asian, three were Māori and one ethnicity was unknown.

Surf Life Saving New Zealand regional manager Chris Emmett said there were only a couple of preventable drownings recorded in the Bay because of its active lifeguard service.

"We have seven clubs in the Bay that are very passionate about the stretches of water they look after," he said.

Water Safety New Zealand chief Jonty Mills said there had been a jump in preventable fatalities for people aged 55-plus and in fatal incidents involving people of Asian ethnicity since 2017.

Mills said in most cases there was either a lack of skills or bad decision making.

"While our waterways are our playground, they can be unforgiving and need to be treated with appropriate respect. Everyone has a responsibility to take water safety seriously," he said.

Water Safety New Zealand had launched a regional water safety campaign to help bring down the country's drowning toll.

Andrea Sinden, of Tauranga Swim School, said more than 100 families came through the learn-to-swim programme this year.

"It is so vitally important as it is an essential life skill that we need to have as we live on an island surrounded by water," she said.

Sinden said the people who were most at risk were Māori and Pacific Island people, and migrants to New Zealand.

"Our New Zealand lifestyle, particularly in the summer months, revolves a lot around water and water-based activities," she said.

"People coming to New Zealand want to experience our culture and therefore participate in water-based activities without the understanding and the knowledge of the dangers, therefore putting themselves at greater risk."

The school held a free community water safety day in October to help educate people about water safety skills.

Sinden said the most common mistakes people made were believing they were more confident in the water than they actually were.

"They will get caught in a rip at the beach and try to swim against it. They panic, tense up and waste energy doing this and put themselves into danger," she said.

A Tauranga man was cruising to Matakana Island on his jet ski when he spotted a man in trouble in the water on Boxing Day.

The 53-year-old, who wished to be identified only as Chris, said the man had put his hand up after the wind and strong current had drifted him away from his boat and out to sea.

Chris said the man appeared tired, but it didn't look like he was at risk of going under the water - and he took him safely back to his boat. "He just knew that he was in trouble."

Chris was unsure the few surfers in the water could see the man in trouble. "So he was pretty lucky I think, that I came along," he said.

However, he played down the incident as "just helping somebody out" and said the man was thankful for his help.

"The big thing there is, to learn that there's so much more current now after they've dredged the channel ... because there's that much more water moving, and because [there is] not a lot of people over there, you are pretty isolated and if something like that happens, you're pretty much by yourself."

Another rescue took place on Boxing Day near Rabbit Island after a mother alerted lifeguards that her son was overdue after going out swimming.

Lifeguards found him, pulled him into an inflatable rescue boat, but he didn't need any further attention.

Indian student Kishore Kumar, 27, drowned at Omanawa Falls in April this year.

Police divers recovered his body from the pool at the base of the falls, a popular waterfall spot in the Bay of Plenty.

Additional reporting - Scott Yeoman

INJURED LIFEGUARD RESCUES MAN

A broken leg didn't stop Mount Maunganui lifeguard Deb Reardon from limping to the water's edge to try and save an elderly man's life.

Reardon, 59, was being brought back to shore by fellow lifeguard Peter Jacobs after breaking her fibula in a surf lifesaving competition in January 2018 when the pair spotted a group of people in trouble in the water in front of Cutterscove apartments on Marine Parade.

"We were driving along the beach when we saw a lot of people running towards us waving their arms saying there was some people swept out to sea," she said.

The qualified lifeguard of 10 years stayed ashore to call for backup while Jacobs jumped into the water. However, no other lifeguards were available so it was up to Reardon.

"I grabbed my tube and limped out to sea," she said.

"What can you do? You just do it. You have to be there in the moment and when you hear the distress and panic, there is never a question. You just have to go."

Jacobs had already pushed a few of the group, who appeared to be children, back to shore by the time Reardon had got into the water.

Reardon said beachgoers were shouting and pointing for her to rescue an elderly man who was face down in the water. When she reached him, Reardon tied the rescue tube around his waist and rode the waves with him back to safety.

"He was in his early 80s and had flown out from the United Kingdom and just arrived in New Zealand that day," she said.

"He was swimming when a rip just started without warning and he got swept out further than his depth."

Reardon was thankful nobody had drowned. "Everybody was brought back to shore," she said.

She was thankful of her surf lifesaving training and encouraged others to become an active lifeguard. "If you're a good swimmer, they will teach you the skills you need to save a life."

Bay of Plenty drownings - by the numbers
Bay of Plenty drownings - by the numbers

BAY OF PLENTY DROWNINGS

6 Rotorua Lakes Council

2 Tauranga District Council

4 Western Bay of Plenty

1 Whakatane District Council

Male: 11

Female: 2

Total: 13

Source: Water Safety New Zealand

BEACH SAFETY TIPS

1. Choose a lifeguarded beach and swim between the flags.

2. Ask a lifeguard for advice.

3. Don't overestimate your ability.

4. Keep young children within arm's reach at all times.

5. Never swim or surf alone.

6. Watch out for rip currents, they can carry you away from shore. The message is simple: Remember the three R's - Relax and float, Raise your hand and Ride the rip.

7. When fishing from rocks, always wear a lifejacket.

8. If in doubt, stay out!

9. If you see someone in trouble, call 111 and ask for police.

10.Be sun smart: Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap.

Source: Water Safety New Zealand