Concerns Kiwis losing ability to swim as 27 people dead in water incidents already this summer

There are concerns New Zealanders are losing their ability to swim as the country faces the highest number of drownings in years. 

So far this summer, 27 people have died in water-related incidents - and now there are calls for the Government to subsidise swimming lessons for all school children to stop the problem before it gets out of control.

School swimming used to be a summer ritual, but along with the pools themselves, it's quickly becoming a thing of the past.

"To have it at school means they will always be in the water. Without it they are missing some of those key skills," says Danni Turner, a swimming instructor for more than 25 years.

Turner has seen the number of kids enrolling in private lessons increase over time. She says people who can't swim shouldn't be in the water but admits private lessons are a luxury not everyone can afford. 

"Some families will ring and have to choose which child to put into swimming lessons."

And Turner isn't alone. Māori leaders are also calling for the Government to step up and make swimming lessons and pools accessible for all. 

"There's a real inequitable access point for private swimming lessons," says Selah Hart, Hapai Te Hauora Māori Public Health CEO. "For many families especially in the wake of the pandemic and job losses the weekly budget doesn't stretch to those additional costs."

A rescue at Mt Maunganui was just one of many serious water incidents on Tuesday, with a young man taken to hospital in a critical condition. But there were also three confirmed deaths by drowning on the same day in Ngaruawahia, Wenderholm and near Dargaville.

The summer is shaping up to be one of our worst ever for drownings. With two months to go, the toll is already higher than last year and the year before.

According to the New Zealand Curriculum, all children should get the opportunity through school to learn basic aquatic skills by the end of Year 6. But it also says it's up to schools to provide that opportunity in their own pool, neighbouring school pool or community facility. 

The problem is the cost to maintain a pool is often too great for schools and community pools usually charge an entry fee.

Water Safety CEO Daniel Gerrard says there is work to do to ensure no one is left behind.

"We need to do more work with the Ministry of Education around the school curriculum... education is the key to this and the younger we start, the better."

So that we can avoid another deadly summer like this one.