After a horror summer of drownings throughout New Zealand, water safety specialists are stressing the importance of people doing their homework before swimming in lakes and rivers.
The Water Safety New Zealand website showed 13 preventable drowning fatalities for 2022 as of Monday, with six of those in rivers and one in a lake.
Central Otago District Council aquatics manager Carly Getson said learning to swim and supervision was the key combination for water safety.
Supervision around water was critical and children should always be actively supervised by a trusted adult in lakes and rivers, she said.
The Central Otago Swim School programme taught children water awareness, how to behave in water and to respect it, and how to help themselves and others in emergencies.
Many children had missed out on swim lessons because of lockdowns and that interruption could mean their skills had regressed, Mrs Getson said.
She and Steve Rushbrook, Otago Regional Council harbourmaster who has oversight of the major part of Lake Dunstan, both recommended people have a buddy while swimming, no matter their age.
Mr Rushbrook said people needed to do their homework before choosing to swim in rivers, lakes and streams.
“Be aware of the flows and the conditions you are intending to swim in,” he said.
“Don’t exceed your capabilities.”
The advice for swimmers was the same given to boat operators, Mr Rushbrook said.
“If in doubt, don’t go out.”
Locals have been listening.
Friends Henry Edwards and Theodore Waite (both 6) were playing in the outdoor pool last week at the Molyneux Aquatic Centre under the watchful eye of Henry’s mother, Chloe Carlin, while Theo’s mother, Charlotte Waite watched her daughter Ella (5) indoors.
Both mothers said their children had started swimming lessons young, although Ms Carlin was having difficulty booking one-on-one lessons for Henry.
Mrs Waite said she took the children swimming in Lake Dunstan most days, where Theo also liked kayaking, and they wore life-jackets and were supervised at all times.
Cromwell College pupils Ben James (15) and Harlyn Blakie (14) said they were taught river safety at school, including going in the water fully clothed to learn what to do in that situation.
They were confident they could help others in danger if needed, but only if it was safe to do so.
“I’d assess the situation and see if it was dangerous for me to go in there,” Ben said.
“If it was, I’d try to help from land.”
Harlyn added, “and call someone to help.”