Call for water safety law change
Water officials want lifejackets made compulsory for some water sports as the number of drownings increases.
There were 88 drowning fatalities regarded as preventable in 2017, up from 78 in 2016, which has Water Safety NZ wanting a law change that would require paddle boarders and kayakers to wear lifejackets.
Currently, the law requires the skipper of a boat to carry a correctly sized lifejacket for each person on board, but there are no rules around other vessels.
Water Safety NZ chief executive Jonty Mills said the law should require all people on recreational vessels 6 metres or shorter to wear lifejackets at all times in the water.
‘‘We think this would help change the culture around lifejackets as the law change around seat belts and helmets did.’’
With non-patrolled areas, such as rivers, being the ‘‘deadliest aquatic environment’’ in 2016, swimming education also needed to be a priority, Mills said.
In 2016, there were 24 drownings in rivers and inland still waters, such as lakes and ponds, which was more than 25 per cent of the total drownings that year. In 2017, this increased to 26 drownings.
The statistics from Water Safety NZ are provisional only, as a final report is expected midyear, once police and coronial reports are processed.
Mills said people needed education about the dangers of water and how to assess risks.
Only a quarter of New Zealand schools delivered an adequate or minimal level of aquatic education, he said.
‘‘Our drowning toll is at the high end for a developed country. We’d like to see it more structured in the school curriculum.’’
Ministry of Education spokeswoman Ellen MacGregor-Reid said the New Zealand curriculum required primary schools to provide children with the opportunity to learn basic aquatic skills.
‘‘Schools have the discretion to develop and implement an aquatic education programme that best works for their students and encourages them to be confident and safe in the water.
‘‘The ministry provides all schools with an annual operations grant, which can be used to fund the running of a swimming pool.’’
Schools with no pools could use the grant to take pupils to a nearby swimming pool, MacGregor-Reid said.
Palmerston North Surf Lifesaving Club president Con Fraser said lack of knowledge was the biggest problem with people getting into trouble in the water.
‘‘Before they go into the water they should know how to swim.’’
Lifeguards couldn’t monitor every swim spot in the country, so people needed to take responsibility, he said.
Lifeguards predominantly patrol beaches, but in the 1980s and 1990s lifeguards patrolled swim spots such the Manawatu¯ River during festivals, Fraser said.
Lifeguards used to patrol swim spots other than beaches in the 1980s and 1990s.