28 Jan 2015

Swimmers 'must recognise their limits'

5:45 am on 28 January 2015

Surf Lifesaving New Zealand says drownings could be prevented if people better assessed their competence and sea conditions before diving in.

Wellington swimmers

Photo: RNZ / Alexa Cook

Seventeen people have drowned already this year, the highest fatality rate since 2012. Safety experts agree swimmers are overestimating their ability and not taking precautions.

WaterSafe Auckland advocate and life member of Surf Lifesaving New Zealand, Kevin Moran, said it was not surprising that 80 percent of deaths in the water were men, as women were much more cautious.

The research he had done suggested two factors contributed toward drowning. "The first one being under estimation of the risk and the second one the over estimation of their competencies; you put those two together and you have a fatal combination."

Water Safety New Zealand said the consistently hot weather had also had an impact as more people hit beaches than during previous summers.

Surf Lifesaving New Zealand chief executive Paul Dalton said swimmers at beaches they were not familiar with needed to seek local knowledge, even if the sea looked safe.

"I think it's really important if there's no life guards there to tell you about the local conditions then you ask the people who are around," he said.

"Hopefully there'll be someone fishing or going into the dairy or whatever who can tell you where a safe place to swim is ... and if you're not sure then don't go in."

Mr Dalton said although 74 beaches were patrolled by lifeguards nationwide, people still needed to look out for their own safety.

"Whether it's ourselves, surf lifeguards or coastguards in the boats we can only be in so many places at any one time so we're really reliant on people who are swimming or boating outside of that safety net to really be far more responsible for themselves."

This message was echoed by Swimming New Zealand which runs the Learn to Swim programme in schools.

Chief executive Christian Renford said they wanted to reach more schools as water survival was an important part of their education.

"Where we see our role being played is to be able to make sure that we can provide those necessary life skills to be able to determine those swim and survive skills in that primary school environment so they've got those skills they can take through for life."

And with plenty of summer still to go, Mr Moran said people still had time to learn how to survive in the water.

He said this included learning to float on your back, breathe underwater, and recognise dangerous rips and undercurrents.