Nine people drowned in the Waikato last year with the region's rivers claiming the most lives.
The number is down on 12 drownings in 2012 and the national toll dropped from 98 to 81.
However, Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Matt Claridge said the figures were still too high and some of the worst in the developed world.
Of the nine drownings in Waikato, eight of them were men and four happened in rivers. One was a child under the age of four, while the rest were aged 15 to 44.
Beaches, pools and tidal waters claimed one life each and there was one death in offshore waters.
Four of the drownings happened while swimming or taking part in water sports. Mr Claridge said men accounted for 77 per cent of drownings nationally last year (88 per cent in Waikato) and ''Kiwi blokes'' were a priority for water safety groups.
"We need to halve the number of men drowning and reduce the pre-school toll to zero - but all New Zealanders need to play a role in achieving this,'' he said.
"There's no room for complacency when it comes to water safety. I'm sure all New Zealanders would agree that eighty-one deaths is eighty-one too many."
There have been four drownings in New Zealand so far this year.