Seven people will lose their lives to drowning between 4pm today (Christmas Eve) and the end of the official Christmas holiday period (6am on 5 January) if the average drowning toll for the past five years is anything to go by.
93 people have already drowned this year – three more than last year’s total – and eight more than this time last year. Ten people drowned during last year’s holiday period.
As thousands flock to New Zealand’s beaches, rivers, lakes, swimming pools and other water spots this holiday season, the water safety sector says enough is enough.
“We’re calling for all New Zealanders to stop and think about water safety this Christmas,” says Water Safety New Zealand CEO Matt Claridge.
“If we can just get everyone to do that, then I’ll be announcing the first ever zero drowning toll on record for this period come 5 January.”
Men make up around 80% of the total drowning toll with a particular overrepresentation in boating incidents. This year two preschoolers have drowned – down from the five-year average of seven for 2010-2014 – but still two, too many.
Coastguard, Surf Lifeguards, Maritime Officers and many other volunteers will be out in force to help keep Kiwis safe over the official holiday period, but Mr Claridge says personal responsibility is key.
“If people paused to consider the potential risks and their personal limitations around water before they go in, then we would come a lot closer to reaching our sector goals outlined in the Water Safety Sector Strategy 2020 – halving the male toll and reducing preschoolers to zero drownings.
“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 national life saving manager Allan Mundy says there will be more than 4,000 Lifeguards on duty at around 80 beaches nationwide this festive season.
“We’re an island nation and the beach is our natural playground – but stopping and thinking before you go into the water could save your life. Be prepared, watch out for yourself and others, be aware of the dangers and know your limits.”
Mr Dalton says it’s vital that beach goers choose a patrolled beach with highly skilled lifeguards on hand and swim between the flags. Patrolled beaches can be found on www.findabeach.co.nz.
Coastguard New Zealand CEO Patrick Holmes says following the five rules of the Boating Safety Code – wearing a lifejacket, carrying communications, skipper responsibility, checking the weather and not drinking alcohol – are a boatie’s best protection when the unexpected happens.
“The skipper is responsible for the safety of everyone onboard and for the safe operation of the boat, so knowing the limitations of your vessel and experience could save lives.
“With New Zealand’s unpredictable weather, it’s important that boaties check the local marine weather forecast. Our NowCasting app is a great way to keep up-to-date with changes in weather as it provides automatic weather updates (wind and sea condition) for boaties via the Coastguard VHFnetwork.”
Matt Claridge says the entire water safety sector is aiming for a zero drowning toll this official holiday period.
“We need all New Zealanders to make water safety a priority this Christmas season and stop and think before they go near the water.”