Twelve people drowned in the Bay of Plenty and more than a hundred others lost their lives in the water in New Zealand last year.
Water Safety New Zealand this week released its annual drowning figures, which revealed a total of 123 people drowned in 2011. This figure was up 41 per cent on 2010.
It was the worst toll on record since 2003, and up on the five-year average of 111 drowning deaths a year, which experts described as a tragic increase on the previous year's record low.
Eight of the 12 deaths in the Bay of Plenty last year occurred during recreational activities - power boating, rowing, free diving, boogie boarding or swimming - with the remaining for a result of accidental immersions or motor vehicle accidents.
WSNZ chief executive Matt Claridge said an increase of such magnitude was extremely disappointing.
"To go from a record low in 2010 to an eight-year high in 2011 is a tragedy and we will continue to do everything we can to inform and educate people about water safety to ensure 2012 is a better year."
Last year, there were 66 recreational drownings, making up 54 per cent of the total, as well as 24 occupational drownings and 30 due to other causes, which includes suicides, homicide and vehicle crashes.
Men made up a significant 80 per cent of all those who drowned last year.
Mr Claridge said it was difficult to determine the reason for last year's high toll, but added New Zealand has an ongoing issue with a casual attitude to water safety.
"Many of the drownings that occurred during recreational activities could have been prevented if people remembered the safety basics. Wear life jackets, check the weather forecast, stay within your limits, don't swim alone and avoid alcohol."
The number of preschooler drownings was up 75 per cent on the previous year, with 14 children under the age of five drowning last year.
Mr Claridge said the high proportion of young children that drowned was a tragedy for the nation.
Maori were over-represented in the statistics, accounting for 20 per cent of all drownings despite making up 15 per cent of the population. Last year also saw a significant increase in the number of people of Asian descent drowning, with 18 deaths - three times the average between 2006 and 2010.
WSNZ was developing a safety campaign specifically targeting people of Asian descent.
Beaches overtook rivers, which are historically more dangerous, in last year's statistics. There were 29 death at beaches compared with 27 at rivers.
Mr Claridge said this year was already off to a poor start, with 15 drownings to date.
Yesterday, a 44-year-old man was swept out to sea while trying to swim across the Mokihinui River on the West Coast. His body was later recovered.
The body of Aucklander Zebedee Pua, 15, was also found yesterday after he was swept out to sea while trying to save a younger girl on Thursday.
He went missing O'Neill Bay, 1km north of Bethells Beach, and his body was found last night by the police Eagle helicopter at Kirikiri Bay.
Also caught in a rip was Albert Alapati, 24, who was swept out to sea at Titahi Bay north of Wellington on January 14.
His death was one of three on the water that day, after two men in their 50s died at Lake Taupo and Welcome Bay.
2011 Bay drownings
- January 2: A 3-year-old boy drowned in the Whakatane River.
- January 8: A 17-year-old on a jet ski drowned in Lake Okareka in Rotorua.
- January 16: A 62-year-old man drowned about 1km offshore at Te Kopua, near Te Kaha.
- February 3: A 60-year-old man drowned in a pond in Katikati after his tractor careered into a pond.
- February 8: A 76-year-old man drowned while swimming at Papamoa Beach.
- February 13: A 38-year-old woman drowned while swimming at Whiritoa Beach.
- February 14: A 70-year-old man is pulled from the Kaituna River in Paengaroa.
- Sep 22: A 55-year-old minister drowned after a huge wave sank the boat he and his son were in on Tauranga Harbour.