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For our primary school children, Water Skills for Life is the essential beginning of life-long learning.

About Water Skills for Life

Water Skills for Life is the national standard for aquatic education in New Zealand primary schools. It is linked into the national education curriculum and gives children the skills and knowledge they need to assess risk and make smart decisions around water.

Why it's important in drowning prevention

For our precious children these are the formative and most important years when water safety can be embedded and a life-long step-change achieved. It is the time when children are most receptive and sets them for further learning and resilience throughout their lives.

This website gives teachers the tools to easily teach Water Skills For Life, even if no school pool is available. Alternatively, there are directions to providers, in every area of New Zealand, so that expert education can be at hand. Find resources in the Schools and Kura page.


Only 27 percent of New Zealand schools* provide a minimum acceptable combination of eight or more water-based lessons of 26–30 minutes’ duration per year. The minimum should in fact be 10 lessons of at least 30 minutes.

Faced with the reality that more children are leaving school without the necessary water safety skills, should we accept that more New Zealanders will drown, or address the issue, starting in primary schools?

Water Skills for Life launched in 2016

Traditionally children may learn-to-swim, although even this skill is in decline. The assumption is that swimming skills are also survival skills, however this is far from true.

Water Skills for Life is made up of seven skill sets that contain 27 core skills, it establishes broad fundamental competencies for life-long water safety.

It gives children the skills and knowledge they need to assess risk and make smart decisions around water so they can stay out of trouble and survive should they get into trouble.

Children are taught Water Skills for Life at their school, either by their school teacher or by a swim teacher at a community pool. Schools can decide how they teach their students Water Skills for Life.

It is easier to teach than technical swimming and fun to learn.

Swimming New Zealand work with swim teachers and schools to help them deliver authentic water skills learning experiences for students across a wide and diverse range of abilities, ages and cultures.

Water Skills For Life is partners with Swimming New Zealand and other providers, to deliver the programme, with funding support from the New Zealand Lottery Grants Board and ACC.

*2017 study OF aquatic education in our schools, by the New Zealand Council for Education Research, commissioned by Water Safety New Zealand.

Download the background Information paper to know more about Water Skills for Life


Donations made to Water Safety New Zealand receive tax credits and our Charities Services registration number is CC33799. 



Drowning is the number one cause of recreational death and the second highest cause of death as result of unintentional injury among young people aged 1-24 years. In 2019 the 10-14-year old age group had the highest number of ACC claims for water related injuries and there were almost 6,000 water related injury claims for children aged 0-14 years, (ACC, 2020). With this in mind, the focus of interventions in order to achieve the end outcome of culture change for this age group is delivery of the Water Skills for Life (WSFL) programme. This programme helps establish broad, fundamental competencies for life-long water safety.


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