A drowning prevention group is calling for immediate action to ensure all school kids have access to swimming lessons.
An Otago University study of eight Dunedin schools that found two thirds of kids are unable to swim 100 metres.
Water Safety chief executive Jonty Mills warns that the situation is a ticking time bomb if action is not taken to improve Kiwi children's swimming ability.
"Central and local government need to work with schools and communities to make it more of a priority, we'd like to see aquatic education strengthened in the curriculum."
Mr Mills says the drowning toll will only get worse and it's down to a lack of swimming lessons in schools.
"School pools are closing at a reasonably alarming rate, about 160 odd in the last five years, so what we do need to do is to make access to water safety skills more affordable and more accessible, whether it be through schools or whether it be through council or community facilities."
Water activities are part of the New Zealand identity and kids need to learn basic swimming skills Mr Mills says.
"We are an island nation who enjoy the water, it's part of who were are as Kiwis and we certainly see a link between kids not having those basic survival skills and a drowning spike later on."