Surf lifesavers say it could take generations to bring down the high number of men who drown each year.
Provisional figures show more than three quarters of the 90 people who drowned last year were men.
The chief executive of Surf Lifesaving New Zealand, Paul Dalton, said men often over-inflated their view of how capable they were in the water and underestimated the risks.
Mr Dalton said it was often difficult to get water safety messages across to men.
Educating children would help change attitudes and behaviour over time, he said.
The primary teacher union is also calling for more to be done to get schoolchildren learning to swim, saying the current allocation of lessons isn't enough.
The president of the New Zealand Educational Institute, Louise Green, said the country's drowning toll is too high.
Last year a dozen children under the age of 15 drowned.
Ms Green said while swimming lessons are part of the curriculum, lessons at many schools lessons are limited to one a week per class for a term.
"What I am not sure of is does every child in New Zealand through the schools they are at have acccess to the pools?...Is there enough capacity? I mean those are the questions that the policy makers should probably be asking."
Louise Green said the Ministry of Education should boost funding to cover the cost of travelling to pools.