26 Jan 2015

Drowning toll climbs over weekend

2:44 pm on 26 January 2015

In a tragic weekend at beaches and rivers around New Zealand, two men drowned and two others are presumed drowned.

According to Water Safety New Zealand, 15 people have drowned so far since 1 January, and men continued to be most at risk.

Coastguard crew look for the missing boat north of Auckland.

Photo: Supplied / Coastguard

In the latest incident, a 42-year-old man drowned while collecting shellfish with friends at Ocean Beach in Bluff yesterday afternoon.

In Hamilton, there was still no sign of a man who disappeared while trying to swim across the Waikato River on Saturday.

And north of Gisborne, a 23-year-old man died trying to save his brother and another man who got into trouble while swimming at Makorori Beach. His brother, aged 18, is missing presumed drowned while the 20-year-old friend managed to get to shore safely.

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Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said the number of people who had drowned so far this year was high.

"We see more drownings in January typically than any other month, but for that many, even though there has been some pretty good weather, is disappointing," he said.

Last year, 90 deaths were reported compared to 107 in 2013.

Although the trend was going down, New Zealand remained one of the three worst countries for drowning in the developed world, said Mr Claridge.

Men continued to account for 80 per cent of victims.

Kevin Moran, a founding member of the former Drowning Prevention Council and an active lifeguard, said young men tend to be over-confident in their ability to cope with water conditions.

"We are risk takers as opposed to females that are risk-adverse," he said.

"It's therefore not surprising that when you put yourself in a recreational environment it's very easy to underestimate the risk associated with surf, with rip currents, with river currents and over-estimate your ability to overcome those risks."

He said it was difficult to convince some men to be risk-adverse, but he was convinced it could be done over time, with a strong message.

Mr Claridge said most drowning deaths could be prevented.

"I encourage people to enjoy the water, but you've got to do safely," he said. "You have to know exactly what your limits are, you've got make sure your gear is prepped and that you are with someone else at all times."

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