How to keep safe in the water

Last Updated : 08 Apr 2024
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When your favourite swimming spot calls, take the time to think about how to stay safe and what to do if you or others get into trouble.

Stay safe and have fun in the water by following these tips.

Decide with Safeswim

Before you go swimming, check out the conditions at your favourite spot on the Safeswim website.

Providing up-to-date information on water quality, risks of illness, safety risks, site-specific hazards and the latest on wind, waves and tides, Safeswim is a fantastic tool to help keep you and your whānau safe.

Covering 133 beaches across the Auckland region, the award-winning tool combines real-time data and regular water sampling to help keep swimmers informed. Some of Auckland’s most popular beaches are also home to digital signs displaying the latest Safeswim updates too – keep an eye out for them.

To get the latest information on water quality and water safety check the Safeswim website.

Safety in the surf, rivers and lakes

Whether you’re heading to a patrolled beach, enjoying a day in a regional park, or cooling off at your favourite local swimming spot, we have some golden rules for you to follow to stay safer and have an enjoyable swim.

Be prepared - check the weather forecast, visit the Safeswim website and know the local environment before you swim. Check the conditions, and if you feel uncomfortable about getting into the water, go with your gut feeling and stay out. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Swim between the flags - if you are heading out to the beach, choose a lifeguarded one and remember the red and yellow flags show the safest area to swim.

Look out for yourself and others - always supervise children around water and keep children under five years within arm's reach; never swim alone and don't pressure your friends to get into the water if they're not confident

Know your limits - too many people get into trouble in the water because they overestimate their abilities and underestimate the conditions. Stay within your abilities and skill level and know what you can and can't do in open water. Test yourself in a pool or other safer environments first.

3Rs rip survival plan - rips are a major hazard on New Zealand beaches and can be deadly. Learn the 3Rs Rip Survival Plan – it could save your life. RELAX and float to conserve your energy, RAISE your hand to signal for help, RIDE the rip until it stops, and you can swim back to shore safely, or help arrives.

Freshwater safety - fresh water in rivers and water full of air bubbles around the base of waterfalls is less dense and less buoyant. It is easier to sink and more difficult to float in these types of water. After heavy rain the water flow or current in creeks, rivers, and waterfalls becomes stronger, making it more dangerous to wade or swim.

Be aware of hidden dangers – slippery and submerged rocks, debris and underwater currents pose dangers, and sudden changes in depth can make it difficult for you to find your footing. Conditions and locations can alter over time, so be cautious even if you regularly swim in the same area

Waterfall safety - Do not jump into the landing area of a large waterfall, the undercurrents directly below a large waterfall or weir could hold you under and make it difficult to surface.

Caution in cold water – too much time in cold water will fatigue you and make swimming much more dangerous. After about 10 minutes in cold water, you may find it harder to float or swim and there may be a risk of hypothermia. Get out before you get tired.

Fish safely - rock fishing has been a high-risk activity for fatal drownings in previous years. Take care. Check the conditions, tide, swell and weather forecasts. Wear your lifejacket, lightweight clothing and footwear (not gumboots) and never turn your back to the sea as large waves can sweep you off the rocks unexpectedly.

Get help – if there are lifeguards on patrol where you swim, let them know if you see someone in trouble. If you can’t see any lifeguards, call 111 and ask for the Police.

Pool safety saves lives

An average of two pre-schoolers dies in home pool drownings in New Zealand every year, and we all have a part to play to get this number to zero.

More than 30,000 pools are registered with us across the region, and all pools require safety inspections every three years to help prevent drownings. We urge pool owners to carry out their own maintenance and inspections regularly too, to ensure ongoing safety and keep whanau and friends safe.

To see if your pool is safe and for more tips, you can find our full inspection checklist and safety information online.

All pools that can hold 400mm of water or more require the entry point to be fenced, even if the pool sides are 1.2m or higher. Keep anything climbable away from the pool sides. Removable ladders are no longer accepted - they must be fenced.

Be a backyard lifeguard

Follow these home swimming pool tips:

  • Active supervision is crucial: keep children within sight and reach, without distraction. Children under five years of age should be in reach at all times

  • Have a dedicated person whose sole responsibility is watching the children, particularly during busy periods like during barbecues and food prep. It’s easy to think someone else is watching the pool – but making it one person’s job is the safest option

  • Set and discuss safe water-play rules with your children

  • Have a plan: what if you need to take one child to the toilet, or you need to run inside briefly?

  • Be ready to respond in an emergency. Learn child CPR.

  • Ensure inflatable pools are fully inflated and filled – this prevents the sides collapsing if a toddler leans on it.

  • Check home pools and other bodies of water first if a child is missing.

  • Identify potential water hazards and provide barriers to eliminate or minimise risk, especially if you are on holiday or visiting an unfamiliar location.

  • When not in use, remove toys and other fun items from the pool that children might want to get at.

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