Drowning data for 2023 reveals 90 preventable deaths, majority older men

Males accounted for 83 percent of drowning deaths last year.
Males accounted for 83 percent of drowning deaths last year. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Water safety groups say 2023's drowning statistics point to a "crisis" in Aotearoa, with more work needed to bring down the high number of deaths among older men. 

Data from Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ), published this week, reveals there were 90 preventable drownings last year. 

It's a small drop on the 94 deaths in 2022, but still higher than the 10-year average. 

While a decrease in deaths is positive, the numbers are still too high, said Daniel Gerrard, chief executive officer at WSNZ. 

"This is a national disaster that requires immediate and robust action." 

Males accounted for 83 percent of drownings last year, while people over the age of 45 accounted for 58 percent. 

"We are still seeing an unacceptable number of preventable deaths, especially among older New Zealand males who continue to make risky choices around water." 

There was also a "spike" in drownings of tamariki under five, with eight deaths.

Seven people drowned during the holiday period from December 22 to January 3 - and all were male. 

Around the country

Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland saw 26 drownings last year, up significantly from 17 the year before. 

Gerrard said the supercity needs "intensified" water safety measures. 

"Clearly Auckland's growing population, larger participation rates and warmer climate impacts this number, but there is considerable and long-term ratepayer investment that has gone into attempting to address this issue," Gerrard added. 

Waikato had 16 drownings, a "dramatic increase", said Gerrard, to nearly double its 10-year average. 

And Te Matau a Māui Hawke's Bay had 12 drownings, although some were attributed to flood-related incidents. 

Te Tai Tokerau Northland had just four drownings, a significant decrease from the 18 in 2022. 

That drop could be due to "effectiveness in local approaches to water safety and a strong local push around behavioural change", Gerrard said. 

He added each part of the country needs its own unique strategies to reduce deaths in the water. 


Gerrard said more resourcing needs to be funnelled into targeting older males, a "hard-to-reach bunch of blokes," to help them make safer choices. 

WSNZ also wants to see "aquatic literacy" introduced to the school curriculum, including teaching the importance of floating. 

"It should be everyone's basic human right to learn the essential life skill of water competence," Gerrard said. 

The organisation urged new Government ministers to put as much focus on preventing drownings as deaths on the road. 

"Our commitment to water safety must be unwavering, and it requires the collective effort of the entire nation." 

During the wet, rainy summer experienced by most of Aotearoa in 2022/23, there were 49 drownings, the highest number since the summer of 1997/98. 

Drownings by environment: 

  • 29 pct - Beaches 
  • 27 pct - Rivers 
  • 12 pct - Pools 
  • 12 pct - Offshore (ocean) 
  • 4 pct - Powered craft. 

Drownings by cause: 

  • 33 pct - Unintentional slips and falls 
  • 21 pct - Swimming or playing in the water.