'A national disgrace' - 74 people drown in NZ in 2021

Rebecca Moore
Source: 1News

The drowning deaths of 74 people in New Zealand last year has been described as "a national disgrace".

A person swimming in the sea.

New data from Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) shows there was no improvement on 2020, when there was also 74 deaths.

However, chief executive Daniel Gerrard told 1News that 2022 was already off to a "tragic start" - with 17 deaths already, representing 23 per cent of last year's total drownings.

"Every preventable death is devastating to a family/whānau and the community."

WSNZ data on 2021 shows drowning is the leading cause of recreational death and the third highest cause of accidental death in New Zealand.

"Up until December, 2021 was on track to have a lower-than-average year, but 20 deaths in December saw us have as many drownings as the year before, and the highest December toll since 1996," Gerrard says.

Looking around the country, the data shows the worst regions were Auckland, Waikato and Wellington with 12 deaths each.

The number was down 20 per cent in Auckland compared to 2020, however it was 50 per cent higher for Waikato and 140 per cent higher for Wellington.

Meanwhile, there were eight drownings in Northland, eight in the Bay of Plenty, three in Gisborne, one in Taranaki, two in Hawke's Bay, two in Manawatū-Wanganui, two on the West Coast, six in Canterbury, four in Otago and two in Southland.

The cause of most drownings was swimming, making up 31 per cent of the deaths.

Meanwhile, 18 deaths, or 24 per cent, were boating deaths - up 80 per cent on 2020.

Underwater activities - including scuba diving, snorkelling and free diving - accounted for eight deaths, or 11 per cent. The number was down 33 per cent on the previous year.

Māori and men were both over-represented in the data, with 23 deaths, or 31 per cent, being Māori and 62 deaths, or 84 per cent, being men. All but one of the Māori deaths were men and all of the Pacific deaths were men.

For age, drowning fatalities amongst older age groups increased, according to WSNZ.

Those aged over 45 increased, with 14 people who died aged 45 to 54, 15 aged 55 to 64 and 16 aged 65 or older.

"Our drowning toll is something every New Zealander should see as a national disgrace and one we all have a responsibility to address. We all need to make better decisions around water," Gerrard says.

"Despite much of the country being in lockdown for a lengthy period again last year, drowning contributed to 74 fatalities. These tragedies could and should not happen and are a tragic reminder of the importance of being cautious around water.

"Remember the water safety code. Be prepared, watch out for yourself and each other, be aware of the dangers and know your limits."