‘She’ll be right’ attitude part of NZ’s male drowning problem, as new figures released

Males are four times as likely to die in the water than females, figures show, and the "she’ll be right" attitude has a lot to do with it, says Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Jonty Mills.

His comments come as figures for January reveal there were 12 water-related deaths, 10 of which were males.

Men in New Zealand are four times as likely to die from water-related activities than women Source:

Statistics from Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) reveal hundreds of males have died from water-related incidents over the past five years.

Figures show males are four times more likely to die in the water than females. This year's number coming close to the previous two years where 15 people died in January 2017 and 2018.

In the five-year period ending 2019, the number of males who died in preventable water-related accidents was 325.

That’s compared to figures showing 78 females died over the same period.

Mr Mills says drowning is largely a male problem in New Zealand.

“There’s definitely an element of the Kiwi ‘she’ll be right’ attitude. Men who have done something safely once and think that means they will always be safe,” he says.

Last year, 66 males died in water-related activities compared with 12 women.

And although the number was almost 20 less in 2018, the high number has stayed steady over the previous three years.

Over half a million dollars was spent by the agency last year on communicating the water safety message through media.

Despite the figures, Mr Mills says drowning numbers are down.

“Drownings are actually dropping when compared to population growth which has been quite dramatic over the last 20 years,” he says.

“The numbers have a propensity to jump around year on year, in relative terms the toll is declining against an almost 30 per cent population growth in the last 20 years and 15 per cent in the last 10 years," he says.

Numbers of drowning victims by gender and age over the past five years. Source: Water Safety NZ


Mr Mills says the nature of drowning in New Zealand is “complex”.

“Drowning is not one-dimensional. The numbers represent a wide range of age, activities and water environments,” he says.

New Zealand European males have the highest incidence of drowning, with Auckland the city most affected.

Fishing, water sports, boating and diving are amongst the highest number of activities involved in water-related deaths.

But accidental immersion tops them all, with beaches and rivers the most common areas of fatality. Public swimming pools are among the lowest.

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The teenager plucked an 80-year-old man from the water at Waimarama Beach. Source: Seven Sharp

So as 3.5 million people visit Kiwi beaches each year, the message is clear.

“Our advice is always take a buddy, no matter what the activity, and a way of calling for help if something goes wrong,” Mr Mills says.

“And if you’re boating, or shell fishing or fishing from rocks, wear a lifejacket.

“Boaties should also always carry two waterproof forms of communication.

“We would recommend divers get their dive certificates and those returning to diving after a break get health checks and do a refresher course,” Mr Mills says.