WELLINGTON, Sept 5 - The study by Associate Professor Chris Button of Otago University surveyed 48 primary school aged children (6 to 11 years old) from eight schools around Dunedin and found students lacked the basic knowledge to save themselves in the water.

New Zealand has among the worst rates of preventable drownings in the OECD, according to Water Safety New Zealand.

Its chief executive, Jonty Mills, says that figure will only worsen until there was a change.

"An alarming number are coming out of the education system without the basic fundamental skills to do that and this will only see a long term spike in the drowning toll unless we address it as a country," he said.

WSNZ funded a study in 2016 which found only about a quarter of New Zealand schools provided adequate aquatic education.

"It's not acceptable that many kiwi kids aren't even getting wet. We acknowledge there is a lot of pressure on schools but these skills are essential for our Kiwi way of life," Mills said.