Eighty-four New Zealanders have drowned so far this year – including seven pre-school children, up on the 2013 total of five.
And as thousands flock to beaches, lakes and rivers to celebrate the festive season – which begins on Wednesday at 4pm and ends on Monday 5 January at 6am – water safety leaders are joining forces to call for caution.
Coastguard, Surf Lifeguards, Maritime New Zealand officers and many other volunteers will be out in force to help keep Kiwis safe over the official holiday period, but Water Safety New Zealand CEO Matt Claridge says, personal responsibility is key.
“I say it every year, if we’re to get through the official holiday period without another New Zealander drowning we need everyone to make water safety a big priority.
Mr Claridge says it’s hugely concerning that seven preschoolers have lost their lives to drowning so far this year.
“We’re saying to parents and caregivers the only way to keep children under five safe is to keep them within arm’s reach and line of sight at all times. It’s that simple. No children under five should be drowning in this country.”
Surf Life Saving New Zealand CEO Paul Dalton says there will be more than 4,000 Lifeguards on duty at around 80 beaches nationwide this festive season.
“The beach is New Zealand’s favourite playground but it can also be a dangerous place. Learning about the risks and being prepared will mean everyone can enjoy the sun, sea and sand safely this Christmas.”
Make sure you choose a patrolled beach – where you can swim between the flags and feel safe in the knowledge there are highly skilled lifeguards on hand, he says.
Coastguard New Zealand CEO Patrick Holmes says not wearing a lifejacket is the leading risk factor for boating fatalities, but other key risks include not carrying communications, not checking the weather and drinking alcohol.
“New Zealand’s weather can be highly unpredictable, so make sure you check the local marine weather forecast before you head out. It’s also a good idea to download the Coastguard app on your phone (available on both Apple and Android platforms), which provides up-to-the minute live wind data including direction, actual peak and average speed, weather situation and forecasts for recreational boating and coastal sea areas and tidal information including time and height.”
“The five simple rules of the Boating Safety Code could save your life, make sure you follow them for a safe and enjoyable trip on the water – they are your best protection if the unexpected happens,” Mr Holmes says.
Seven people drown on average (last five years) each official Christmas holiday period. Five people – four men and one woman – drowned during last year’s festive season.
Matt Claridge says the entire water safety sector is aiming for a zero drowning toll this official holiday period.
“We just need the holidaying public to support our efforts and make water safety a priority this Christmas.”