Auckland, New Zealand

Swimming to Safety

WaterSafe Auckland

December 8, 2010

Meeting the needs of the Auckland region through water safety coordination and education

You are never far from the water in New Zealand. With 15,134 km of coastline and spectacular rivers, lakes, sounds, straits and fjords, waterside diversions are one of the nation’s key attractions.

Across the Auckland urban region, you can explore two diverse coastlines, three major harbours (the Manukau, the Waitemata and the Kaipara), over 10,000 kilometres of streams, two thermal springs as well as numerous lakes.

Naturally, local residents of all ages enjoy a range of recreational activities including swimming, rockfishing, boating and other water sports.

Water safety and drowning prevention is a key issue for the whole Auckland region but none more so than for its refugee and new migrant communities.

Community Action

Drowning was identified as the major cause of accidental death for new settler populations in the Auckland region (2004-2008).  The city’s growing population of newcomers presents a whole new set of challenges when it comes to keeping its residents and others safe in, on and around water.

“With 39% of Aucklanders born overseas, and coming to New Zealand without the same water safety culture and experiences that ‘kiwis’ have developed, it is important to target migrant communities to ensure we build a water safety culture across our region,” says Teresa Stanley, Business Manager, WaterSafe Auckland.

To address the over-representation of the migrant population in the regional drowning statistics, in 2008 WaterSafe Auckland (WAI) established the New Settler Water Safety Reference Group and embarked on a programme of community education initiatives that put cultural safety alongside issues like drowning prevention, water safety promotion and public education.

New Settler Water Safety Reference Group

Working alongside both migrant organizations and other other swimming and water safety organizations, such as Surf Life Saving and coastguard organizations, the New Settler Water Safety Reference Group created a platform for organizations and individuals working with new migrants and refugees to share expertise, ideas and resources.

“Organizations and individuals must work together to build safe communities,” says WaterSafe Auckland CEO Sandy Harrop.

This cross-sector approach has resulted in culturally appropriate swimming and water safety programmes, resources and workshops that are tailored to community needs. The collaboration has helped create messages that are consistent, streamlined and accessible across the community. WaterSafe Auckland also works with community providers including libraries, churches and migrant groups to avoid duplication of resources and to ensure resources are distributed widely across all sectors of the new migrant communities.

“Many Asian people don’t have a concept of water safety. I think the promotion of water safety has to be continued. There are many functions/meetings in Asian society, I think we should go inside their society so the messages of water safety and rock fishing will spread.” (Kam Kammie, Youth Leader St John, Newmarket and member Chinese NZ Youth Trust)


WaterSafe Auckland was formed in 1994 and is recognized regionally as the coordinating body for water safety activities in the Auckland region. Its partnerships with a wide range of organizations have resulted in innovative and effective programming. Here are a few examples.

The ESOL Water Safety Teaching Kit (2008) supports the language needs of students at international language schools and ESOL departments across the region, along with workshops and ongoing support for their tutors. Teaching resources are distributed to 130 international schools.

Learn to swim courses are offered to refugee communities through the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) Refugee Swim programme and water safety workshops are provided at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre. School holiday programmes are also offered to refugee children, who, coming from land-locked countries, often have little or no aquatic experience.

Muslim Women-Only Swimming sessions are held in two Auckland locations on weekends in partnership with the Auckland Regional Public Health Service and Refugees as Survivors. Evaluation from these sessions has highlighted the benefits for women in this community to be able to participate in physical activity and socialize outside their homes.

A New Settler Water Safety DVD produced by WAI in collaboration with WaterSafety New Zealand and the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), aims to assist those in the New Settler and Asian communities in becoming more aware of safe practices in and around water. The DVD is viewable in English, Chinese, Cantonese and Korean. These popular bilingual guides in ACC’s ThinkSafe series in Korean-English and Chinese-English are now being produced in Arabic, Farsi, Hindi, Japanese, Somali and Vietnamese. These are currently in PDF format and can be downloaded from WaterSafe Auckland website.

Saving Lives

The combination of these efforts may be reflected in the declining of drowning statistics for Asian groups, which was dropped from a high of 13 percent of New Zealand’s drowning toll in 2004 to only 3 percent in 2007 and 5 percent in 2008.

Over the past five years WaterSafe Auckland has led the delivery of water safety education to schools and community to meet the needs of a growing and increasingly diverse urban region.  New Mayor, Len Brown, and the new ‘super city’ will soon be taking the success of this local initiative across the newly integrated Greater Auckland region.

Making it Work for You:

  • New migrants can integrate faster and have more fun in the local Auckland environment with appropriate water safety knowledge, opportunities and facilities.  What local traditions and pastimes are available to newcomers in your community?
  • Working together - experts, educators, and community members - contributes to more effective strategies, tools and resources.
  • Collaboration helps reduce duplication and risk, extends scarce resources and can provide wider reach and impact for your work through shared networks.
  • If it works, don't re-invent the wheel.  Adapt and translate proven practices to local needs in consultation with community stakeholders to ensure greater accuracy and relevance.