Water Safety NZ yesterday released provisional drowning statistics showing 93 people died in New Zealand waters last year, compared with 132 in 2011.
Four people drowned in Otago last year, compared with seven in 2011.
Water Safety NZ chief executive Matt Claridge said the decrease in the overall toll was a positive step, but not a reason to be complacent.
He said there were still too many males drowning in New Zealand - 88% of all drownings - and there had been a rise in the number of drownings related to powerboating, with 20 deaths last year. In 2011 there were 11.
While that was disappointing, he said it was pleasing to see the number of preschool children that drowned had declined from 14 in 2011 to three last year.
''But our aim is to have zero preschool drownings, and we want to halve the number of males drowning New Zealand,'' Mr Claridge said.
That goal could be achieved if New Zealand males wore lifejackets when they were on the water, and skippers of vessels attended a coastguard boating education course.
''At the moment a lot of skippers don't know what's available to them, as well as what skills and knowledge they should develop.
''Resources must be made available to ensure all roads lead to skipper education for everyone,'' he said.
Some of the drownings related to powerboating were due to the sinking of Easy Rider in Foveaux Strait last March, in which eight people died.
''Even if we took that number out we'd still have double the five-year average anyway - so there's a real trend there.''
All regions except for Wellington, Taranaki and Southland had fewer drownings in 2012 compared with the previous year.
There were no drownings in Gisborne and Hawkes Bay.
In 2012, offshore drownings (24 deaths), overtook beaches (18 deaths) and rivers (16 deaths) as the main drowning environment.
- Additional reporting APNZ