A water safety spokesperson wants to see the equivalent of a national road safety campaign targeting drowning prevention.

It comes after annual statistics were released on Tuesday, which Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) called “concerning” and “alarming”.

It showed 90 people died in preventable drownings last year, only slightly down from the 94 deaths recorded in 2022, but still above the 10-year average of 82.

“Alarmingly, the under-five age group saw a spike in drownings, with eight fatalities, surpassing the 10-year average of five,” WSNZ said.

WSNZ chief executive Daniel Gerrard said local councils and central government should get behind a new initiative to help prevent more drownings — identifying the most dangerous areas in the country for fishing and swimming and designating them as ‘black spots’.

Places which did not have the highest rates of drowning deaths but were still considered dangerous would be labelled as ‘hot spots’.

“Southland, for example, has a far lower drowning rate than Northland, but Slope Point in Southland is a notorious rock fishing spot, which is definitely a hot spot,” Gerrard said.

He hoped there would be signage at and around each spot, with phone notifications alerting members of the public if they were approaching dangerous areas.

The areas would be designated using 25 years of collected data on fatal, preventable drownings.

However, Gerrard said the initiative was a massive undertaking, and it needed a significant boost in funding, along with participation from elected leaders.

“We’ll be looking at local and regional partners to leverage more investment to make that happen.

“We just can’t continue doing a broad-brush approach and doing national campaigns to do this and that — we don’t have the resource. We’ve got to go local, and now that we know where those local spots are, that’s what we have to do.”

Gerrard said he would like to see funding brought closer to match what is used in road safety campaigns.

While preventable drownings were equal to about one-quarter of the number of road deaths in 2023, $62 million was spent on the Road to Zero campaign, whereas WSNZ only received $4m.

“There are big discrepancies there, and I just don’t want to drown in New Zealand to be just accepted as a thing that happens on an island nation.”

Just because water is built into the culture, he said drowning should not be normal.

“It’s either our playground or our pantry, we’re either going out to feed the family or have a bloody great day out. Too often, that whole thing is destroyed by a massive tragedy.”

A four-year water safety package of $63m was set aside in the 2020 Budget, which helped pay for Coastguard and Surf Life Saving services over the 2022/23 summer period.

rnz.co.nz

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