Drowning is perceived as a problem in New Zealand by 83% of survey respondents and ranks 5th behind child abuse, domestic violence, road safety and bullying at school and the workplace. While our messages may be getting through to some of the people some of the time, behaviour change is sadly lagging.
Beaches, private homes, coastlines, rocks and rivers are seen as high risk areas yet people’s behaviour around these environments is not changing.
The highest number of recreational preventable drownings in 2016 was among people who went swimming representing just over a quarter or 27% of all preventable fatalities.
Swimming is the most popular way Kiwis recreate around water with 84% of respondents saying they had learnt to swim and 58% saying they had swum in the past 12 months. Yet over half (56%) haven’t swum at least 25m in the last 12 months and close to half (47%) have never learnt water safety skills.
While the majority of swimmers (56%) recreate at a public pool where life guards are present, approximately half swim at the beach, be it patrolled or otherwise and around a third at rivers.
No lifeguards are present at unpatrolled beaches and rivers. And the survey found that two thirds of people get into the water without any safety checks, swim alone and between 20% and 30% enter the water sometimes, usually or always with alcohol in their system.
Not surprising, a third of respondents stated they had experienced a serious situation in the water with alcohol mentioned as the main factor or cause of the problem for 11% of respondents.
Alcohol and its relationship to out boating culture also remains an issue particularly with large boats (over six metres). 31% of respondents stated they or others on the boat are sometimes under the influence of alcohol which is up from last year’s 25%. Also, those who stated they were always under the influence of alcohol doubled from 5% to 10%.
Immersion incidents, where the victim had no intention of being in the water, remain the largest cause of non-recreational preventable drownings (28%) in 2016.
Of those respondents who had experienced a serious situation in the water, 17% said they had accidentally fallen in the water. Rivers or streams, unpatrolled beaches or coastline and lakes or ponds were identified as the top environments where people had difficulties.
Peoples’ beliefs about the dangers in, on or around water align with what’s happening in terms of preventable drownings, injuries and risky behaviour. Under estimating the conditions, a lack of knowledge of the environment, over confidence and a lack of skills including not being able to swim prevail as the top reasons why people get into trouble. However, it doesn’t seem to be deterring people from making risky decisions in, on or around water.
On the positive side the messages around lifejackets and the supervision of Under-Fives appear to be gaining traction.
The percentage of people always wearing a lifejacket when canoeing, kayaking, rowing or stand up paddle boarding has gone up from 26% to 47%. The number of people sailing in a large boat (over six metres) who always wear a lifejacket has increased from 63% to 74% and those who never wear one has dropped from 21% to 7%.
The number of respondents who always keep preschool children within arm’s reach around water has increased from 69% to 71%.
The final report will be available on the WSNZ website by the end of June 2017.