In 2023, the majority (83%) of people who drowned in Aotearoa New Zealand were adults over 25 years old. A recent study has discovered a reason for this: there’s often a gap between what people think they can do in water and what they’re actually capable of. The study tested adults’ swimming skills in a pool against their own perception of their ability. Adults were tested on entering and exiting the water, floating and swimming.

Even though most adults (98%) can’t swim more than 100 metres in open water, over half (59%) of the participants believed they were strong swimmers. Similarly, while 90% thought they could float, only 2% could float for more than 5 minutes. This shows that many adults may underestimate the risk of drowning and overestimate their competency, which could explain why so many adults drown.

Research Findings

Download and read the article ‘Perceived and real water competency and drowning risk among adults’ using the link below.

Water Competency

Water competency is a set of behaviours, skills and attitudes relating to water safety. Learn more about the 15 water competencies and check out the evidence base behind them.

eLearning module

DPA offers a free online learning module that covers practical ways for adults to be safer while enjoying popular water-based activities.

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