This report relies on information from 273 drowning incidents (both fatal and non fatal) gathered from coronial findings, police and DHB incident reports between 1 January 2021 and 31 December 2021.
Cases are categorised according to the nature of the incident; preventable fatality, or hospitalisation, age, gender and ethnicity of the victim and nature and cause of the incident, including activity and environment.
We analyse the data and look for groupings of incidents with similar characteristics. These characteristics help us to understand more about the drivers of behaviour that result in these incidents. This report looks at the 2021 data compared with 2020, and the five year average 2015-2019.
In 2021 there were 90 recreational (intending to be in the water) and non-recreational (no intention of being in the water) preventable drowning fatalities.
This is a per 100,000 population rate of 1.76, up from the five year average of 1.67.
Preventable fatalities in 2021 increased by 7% on 2020 (84) and 13% on the five year average (80). 2021 had the highest number of preventable drowning deaths since 2011.
Like 2020, there were lockdowns and restrictions of varying levels in New Zealand in 2021. The nationwide lockdown from mid August to September didn’t have any significant changes to drowning totals that time of year (which has very few deaths on average). December 2021, the beginning of summer and the move to fewer restrictions in the orange level of the traffic light system saw 17 fatalities, almost double December 2020 (9) and over 50% higher than the five year average (11). December 2021 was the highest December since 1998.
Estimations of participation rates in December, using ACC drowning related claim data, show that participation rates in December 2021 (3,099 claims) were similar to that of December 2020 (3,177 claims).
Drowning deaths at beaches (25) and rivers (24) made up over half the fatalities in 2021.
There were 60 recreational drowning fatalities in 2021. Swimming (22) and powered boating (13) made up 58% of those deaths.
In 2021 there were 183 hospitalisations, which are drowning related hospitalisations that required hospital care. This is a 10% decrease on 2020 (203) and slightly less than the five year average (186).
Per 100,000 people, the hospitalisation rate was 3.57 in 2021, down from the five year average of 3.86.
The nationwide lockdown in mid August to September may have had some influence on the hospitalisations at that time – there were 3 hospitalisations in September compared with a five year average of 11.
Over a third of hospitalisations occurred in the sea (70) followed by 41 in rivers (22%) and 34 in pools (19%).
Swimming (62) made up 34% of hospitalisations, followed by powered boating (43 or 23%) and slips/falls (28 or 15%)
ISSN 2463-4441 (Print), ISSN 2463-445X (Online)