Our beautiful waterways and coastline are integral to our way of life – but drowning remains the leading cause of recreational death in New Zealand and our third highest cause of accidental death.
In fact, our drowning rate is twice that of Australia and four times that of the UK so a huge grassroots initiative is now underway to teach Kiwi children practical water safety skills and how to assess risk so they can make smart decisions around water.
An educational programme called Water Skills for Life targets primary and intermediate-age children in Years 1 – 8. It’s run by Water Safety New Zealand and CEO Jonty Mills believes it will help create a long-term culture change around water safety.
“The children of the Bay of Plenty will benefit by learning skills that could potentially save their lives through awareness of the risks presented by the different aquatic environments in Bay of Plenty and New Zealand,” Jonty explains. “They will learn the skills they need to assess risk and how to get out of trouble should they find themselves in trouble.
“We believe this programme will help reduce our drowning statistics by educating young children about the risks they face and giving them the tools they need to enjoy our country’s waterways safely.”
BayTrust has granted $70,000 towards the initiative which will be used to deliver Water Skills for Life into schools through teacher workshops. Those teachers will then work with their students either in their school pool or in a community facility. A portion of the funding will also be used to host a refresher course for teachers who have already undergone training previously.
“The main issue is ensuring that there are no barriers for children from primary and intermediate schools having access to Water Skills for Life,” Jonty says.
“We know cost and access to facilities are barriers that some schools face when trying to deliver aquatic education. The great thing about Water Skills for Life is it is easier to teach than technical swimming and fun for the kids to learn while giving them real world skills that will keep them safe while they are in, on or around water.”
Jonty says Water Skills for Life was designed by a team of experts backed by the latest international research as the most effective way to prevent fatal and non-fatal drownings for a person’s lifetime. “It gives children the knowledge and skills they need to stay safe and experience a life long enjoyment of water.”
Last year 66 people lost their lives in New Zealand in preventable drowning incidents while a further 204 people were hospitalised. The Bay of Plenty had the second highest preventable drowning toll of 10 behind Auckland which had 14.
Water Skills for Life aims to dramatically reduce those numbers in future, and all funding towards that goal is warmly welcomed by Water Safety New Zealand.
“The social and economic cost of drowning far outweighs funding to the water safety sector. We need strategic and innovative initiatives to tackle this important issue. Water Skills for Life is one of those initiatives and the funding from BayTrust is critical to our being able to reach as many children in Bay of Plenty as possible.
“We are honoured to have our project supported by BayTrust. Without the trust’s support we would not be able to have the maximum opportunity to reduce the number of drownings and hospitalisations in Bay of Plenty.”