Water Safety NZ predicts drownings this year could be worst in over a century

A grim report predicts the number of drownings in the country this year could be the worst for more than a century. 

Since January, 76 people have died in the water, but that's expected to surpass 100 this summer. 

Newshub went to visit tamariki who were making a splash during swimming lessons. 

"They show us how to swim so we can also swim at the beach," one boy said. 

When asked what their favourite thing to do during swimming lessons was, one replied "tumble turns" and another said "freestyle". 

But in between all the fun, they are learning life-saving skills. 

A new Water Safety New Zealand report has revealed nearly half the kids in Aotearoa don't attend swimming lessons, and a third of parents surveyed believed their child is too young to learn to swim. 

"It's never too young to learn to swim," SWIM Coaches & Teachers NZ president Dan Fulton said.  

"Most schools start from three months of age and go right through to adults," he added. 

In 2022, 94 people lost their lives to drowning in Aotearoa. 

"We need to start acknowledging this is a national disaster," Water Safety New Zealand's CEO Dan Gerard stressed. 

"We have a summer that's potentially going to be really, really hot, people are going to want to enjoy the beaches we have.

"Right now, we want to make sure everyone is developing the skills they need to be safe out there." 

But a cost of living crisis is just one of the barriers stopping families from getting swimming lessons. 

"Now there's costs around transport, there's school pools closing and having access to these facilities is what's going to be key," Gerard said.  

And a shortage of swimming teachers across the country is creating big waitlists at schools.

"If we can get people teaching swimming, that will solve a huge amount of the issue," Fulton said.  

Just 30 percent of parents surveyed for the report were confident their child had the skills to help themselves in a water emergency. 

"Their dad can't swim, so it was important they knew how to swim and were confident," one mother said.  

"Seeing her being able to navigate the pool and keep herself safe means so much for if I'm not there one day, and she can keep herself safe in the water," another said.  

The group of keen swimmers are proving it's never too early to start learning.