National | Water

One third of all drownings occur due to unintentional slips or falls into water.

Recent Water Safety NZ statistics show that one-third of all drownings this year are due to unintentional slips or falls into the water. That’s 28 individuals out of a total of 88 people that have drowned to date in 2023, and this includes six drowning deaths due to Cyclone Gabrielle in February 2023.

Daniel Gerrard, CEO of Water Safety NZ says the statistics are alarming, “This figure is nearly double last year’s total of 15 and well above the 10-year average of 20. These aren’t just numbers; they are a wake-up call. So, this summer we are issuing a call to action.”

That call to action Gerrad wants is to make ‘floating’ a National priority. He says it is not just about promoting a skill; it’s about changing our mindset towards water.

“This summer let’s enjoy our beautiful waters but also make a collective effort to practice and perfect our floating skills. Let’s ensure that everyone – from the youngest child to the eldest adult – understands the importance of floating, not just as a skill, but as a vital guardian against the unforeseen dangers of water. "

Gerrad is urging that ‘floating’ by every New Zealander to be taken seriously.

“Floating is often overshadowed by more dynamic swimming techniques. Yet, it’s the foundation of water safety and learning to swim. In those critical moments following an unexpected fall into water, the ability to float can be the difference between life and death. Floating keeps your head above water, allows you to breathe, and prevents panic – the silent but deadly precursor to drowning.”

Gerrad also says education is key and floating techniques should be taught in our National curriculum, starting from a young age.

Gerrad says “By normalising this skill as a basic human right, a basic life competency, like reading or writing, we can create a generation of water-wise Kiwis. “I urge each one of us to take floating seriously. It’s a simple, yet powerful skill that has the potential to save lives. In water, being prepared is not a choice; it’s a necessity.”

This time last year there had been 86 drownings recorded in the 2022 calendar year.

Water Safety NZ - Building Your Floating Skills

Building your skill in floating can be an enjoyable and beneficial activity, enhancing your comfort and safety in the water. Here are some activities to practice floating, suitable for different water environments:

1. Still Water (e.g., a lake or a pond):

- Notice that you are not as buoyant in freshwater as you are in the sea.

- Start in shallow water where you can stand.

- Practice the starfish float: lie on your back, ears in the water, spread your arms and legs, and relax.

- Progress to deeper areas as you gain confidence.

2. In the Pool:

- Use the pool’s edge or a floating aid to start.

- Practice both front and back floats, keeping your body relaxed and face up/down in the water.

- Try using a rugby ball or chilly bin as a floating aide.

- Work on transitioning from standing to floating and back.

3. In a Slow-Moving River:

- Ensure the river is safe for swimming and is calm or has a gentle current.

- Practice maintaining your float as the current moves you.

- Always float downstream feet first

4. In Waves (e.g., at a beach):

- Only attempt this at patrolled beaches, such as those listed on

- Always stay within the area marked by red and yellow flags for safe swimming.

- Start in shallow water and get used to the waves.

- Learn to float over small waves, keeping your body relaxed and buoyant.

- Practice raising your arm to signal for help.