Swimming ‘black spots’ identified; focus also on southern ‘hotspots’

While the South Island does not contain any swimming "black spots" in Water Safety New Zealand’s newly released drowning prevention strategy, there are some swimming "hotspots" which southerners should be very wary of.

Water Safety New Zealand chief executive officer Daniel Gerrard said the organisation would officially release its 2023 Drowning Prevention Report today, which would contain a map showing designated "black spots", akin to road safety counterparts.

"These are locations identified for their high incident and fatality rates.

"By spotlighting these areas, tailored preventive measures can be put in place to save lives.

"The idea is to use mobile notifications and local signs to educate water users about risks in specific areas.

"This awareness could lead to safer practices such as encouraging fishing or diving with a mate, wearing lifejackets when fishing off the rocks, avoiding alcohol and understanding local water and weather conditions."

The comprehensive approach explored not only information gathered in 2023, but analysed more than 40 years of fatal and non-fatal drowning data, hospitalisation events, ACC injury records and New Zealand Search and Rescue incident statistics, Mr Gerrard said.

The analysis revealed 10 WSNZ "black spots" — seven of them in the Auckland area alone.

The other three were at Papanui Point (near Raglan), Mount Maunganui and Wellington.

The "black spots" were based in places with the highest population and where the water was warmest, Mr Gerrard said.

While there were no black spots in the South Island, there were some "challenging hotspots" in Otago and Southland, in particular.

Slope Point (Southland), Lake Wakatipu, Lake Wanaka and Tomahawk Beach (Dunedin) were among those dangerous swimming spots.

"Part of the problem is, we’ve got the 10th-longest coastline in the world and it’s not all patrolled.

"So we have to funnel people to swim between the flags for them to be at their safest.

"But Covid-19 has definitely demonstrated that people are liking their own space and they’re choosing to swim in more isolated locations."

There were five drownings in Otago and three in Southland during 2023, which was on par with the 10-year average, he said.

Nationwide, there were 90 preventable drownings — an 11% increase over the 10-year average of 82, and only slightly lower than the 94 drownings in 2022.

Males represented a staggering 83% of these incidents, and the under-5 age group saw a spike in drownings with eight fatalities.

Because of New Zealand’s extensive coastline, lakes and rivers, addressing high-risk areas was crucial for water safety, Mr Gerrard said.

"Identifying and mitigating risks in these ‘black spots’ will be a cornerstone of the country’s water safety activity.

"This approach empowers local communities, ensures efficient resource allocation and, most importantly, prevents drowning incidents."