According to Statistics New Zealand, sixty-five percent of Kiwis live near the coast, and New Zealand has 15,000 kilometres of it.  Sadly, Drownbase and Water Safe New Zealand report that as of 2 February, nineteen people have drowned already this year, indicating that the need for education around water and our coastlines is greater than ever.

In a bid to reduce drowning rates, YMCA and Coastguard Boating Education have recently delivered the Safe Boating Programme to 165 youngsters who attended the YMCA Shakespear Lodge Holiday Programme over the holiday break.

Children from all over Auckland, aged 9 to 14, who were enrolled in the YMCA Holiday Programme were divided into their age groups and taught water safety skills that will last a lifetime.  They learnt about water safety equipment, emergency beacons, communication devices and boating crafts, as well as practical skills for in the water including what to do if they end up in the water by themselves or with others, how to swim underneath an upturned boat, how to enter the water safely, and how to perform a rescue using a throw line.

Mike Cash, YMCA Shakespear Lodge Camp Manager says that the children were of mixed abilities and “some hadn’t been around water much before.  Many were pushing their boundaries to achieve the requirements of the programme, and many helped each other out, which was wonderful to see.”

Julia Bryant, Coastguard Boating Education Project Coordinator says that the programme is designed to “deliver core safety boating messages, so hopefully these children could save their own lives or someone else’s with their skills.”  All children who completed the programme received a Coastguard Education Safe Boating Certificate, “and it’s our hope that the certificate goes home and is recognised in their household, especially if they are from a boating oriented family,” says Julia.

Six YMCA Shakespear Lodge staff taught the children, after training with Coastguard Boating Education instructors.  The YMCA was a natural partner for Coastguard Boating Education because of their access to children and affinity with the outdoors.  “The YMCA staff do the programme absolute justice as they are incredibly passionate about what they do and they work so well with children.  It was a natural fit for us,” says Julia.

YMCA have a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Coastguard Boating Education which enables them to deliver the Safe Boating Programme and award completing participants with the certification.  YMCA Centres across Auckland with aquatic facilities (including Cameron Pools, Glen Innes, Lagoon Pool, Onehunga, and Sacred Heart Aquatics) will be delivering the programme, for free, to young people who enrol in holiday programmes.

Reducing the drowning rate across New Zealand is the ultimate hope of both YMCA Auckland and Coastguard Boating Education.  “If you’re a kiwi kid, inevitably you’ll be around, near or on the water at some stage.  The skills they are being taught as part of this programme are transferrable across all water sports, be that stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and being in big yachts or small tinnies.  Access to the water these days is easy, and we want every young person to have the confidence to enjoy themselves safely,” says Julia.