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Nearly 20 people have drowned in Otago and Southland this year - six more than last year.
The most recent was a kayaker on Lake Te Anau but it was Foveaux Strait that claimed the most lives this year with 10 people dying in the southern waterway.
Four drowned in Otago - two in the Clutha River, one in the Poolburn Dam and one in the Ahuriri Valley - down from seven in 2011.
In Southland, there had been 15 drownings including two each in Milford and Doubtful Sounds, up from six the year before.
Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said 86 people had drowned so far this year.
''New Zealand has one of the worst drowning tolls in the developed world. This is a nationwide problem everyone needs to play a part in solving.''
He urged everyone to know their limits, and keep an eye on their friends and family in and around the water this holiday season.
On average, 10 people drowned in New Zealand waters each official Christmas holiday period - from 4pm Christmas Eve until 6am on January 3, he said.
Last year, nine people lost their lives in the water during that period.
People traditionally flocked to the country's lakes, rivers and beaches so it was a ''high risk'' time, he said.
''If everyone makes safety a priority and remembers the basics - wear life jackets, keep kids within arm's reach, know your limits and don't drink alcohol when taking part in a water-based activity - then a zero toll is achievable.''
Fishermen were over-represented in 2011's Christmas toll with four men drowning while fishing. People needed to remember to take a mate, wear a life jacket and check the marine forecast.
Police have released the name of a man who drowned at a popular Coromandel beach on Monday. Jason Anthony Johns (43) went into the water at Whitiora Beach about 60m north of the patrolled swimming area and immediately got into difficulty in the 2.5m swell. His brother witnessed the tragedy.
The pair had been staying with friends in Waihi for Christmas when they decided to visit the tiny beach settlement between Waihi and Whangamata, where they lived as children in the 1980s. - Additional reporting APNZ