Drownings in region decreased last year
Three people, including a toddler, drowned in Southland last year.
The number of drownings in Southland dropped from 13 in 2012 with several boating tragedies - including the loss of eight lives on the Easy Rider - contributing to the 2012 drowning total.
Water Safety New Zealand figures show the three drownings in Southland occurred as a result of an "immersion incident", a "powered boat incident" and an incident recorded as "other activity".
Other activities referred to incidents such as road vehicle accidents and suicides.
Nationally, 81 people drowned in 2013, down from 98 in 2012, the lowest number since records began in 1980.
Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said while the overall decrease was promising, five pre-schoolers drowned last year - up 67 per cent on 2012.
The number of 5-14-year-olds who drowned was double the five-year average, he said.
The increase in the number of pre-schoolers drowning - and no drop in the 5-14-year-old toll - was concerning, he said.
The drowning victims in Southland included toddler Charlie Aaron Unwin, 2, who drowned on a farm near Gore in June when he fell into a rubbish hole.
At the time, Federated Farmers national president Bruce Wills said water sources on farms and properties were known dangers to small children and the death of a child emphasised the need for vigilance and strict systems and protocols such as fencing.
Mr Claridge said no pre-schoolers should be drowning in New Zealand. "Kids under five should be within arms reach of a parent or caregiver at all times in, on, and around water," he said.
"Initiatives such as Sealord Swim for Life and the Plunket bath mat campaign have never been more important. If we are to achieve a cultural change in behaviour around water, it's crucial that we upskill Kiwi kids with swim to survive skills at school age, and later through Day Skipper and other initiatives."
In September, Mr Claridge praised Southland for being the only region where every primary schoolchild received professional swimming lessons.
Swim Safe Southland, a partnership between Water Safety New Zealand, Sport Southland, Southern REAP and Swimming New Zealand, and part of the nationwide Sealord Swim for Life, was one way of reducing the region's drowning toll by having children to swim, he said.
Men were also over-represented in drownings, Mr Claridge said.
Seventy-seven per cent of last year's drownings were men.
For every drowning in New Zealand, on average another 1.8 people are sent to hospital because of near drownings.
There have been four drownings this year.
Drownings in Southland
2008 – 0
2009 – 5
2010 – 2
2011 – 6
2012 – 13
2013 – 3
The Southland Times