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Published: 2013-01-09 00:00:00

Waikato Regional Council’s harbourmasters are horrified that children’s lives are being put at risk by skippers failing to carry correctly-fitting lifejackets.

In one incident on the weekend, a breach notice was issued to the skipper of a boat returning to shore at Whitianga. On board were three children, including a nine month old girl, and three adults. 

There was no lifejacket on board for the baby, and a second child was wearing an ill-fitting lifejacket which would have come off had the girl entered the water. The third child was wearing an appropriate lifejacket. 

The bylaw breach was detected by the council’s navigation safety team during an assessment of boats at Karapiro and Whitianga over the weekend to see if lifejackets being carried on board would fit the passengers. 

Waikato’s Navigation Safety Bylaw requires that a correctly sized lifejacket or personal floatation device (PFD) be carried for each person on board. Lifejackets or PFDs must be readily accessible – this means they may not be stowed in a hard to get to place. 

Under existing rules, everyone on board any vessel less than six metres in length must wear a lifejacket unless the skipper decides that it is safe not to. Lifejackets or PFDs must be worn when there are high risks to people's safety, including when riding a jet ski. 

At Whitianga, 29 vessels carrying 93 passengers in total were assessed, with two breach notices being issued. When staff checked the lifejackets, it was found that of the 16 children on board, 37 per cent (6) did not have correctly-sized lifejackets, while 12 per cent (9) of adults did not have a lifejacket that fitted properly. 

At Karapiro, four breach notices were issued to skippers who failed to carry sufficient lifejackets for the number of people on board. Three additional notices were issued for speed and towing without an observer. The 29 vessels assessed were carrying 111 people in total, including 43 children. Of those children, 38 were wearing a lifejacket that fitted well and 12 per cent (5) were not, while 13 per cent (9) of adults also did not have a lifejacket that fitted well. 

It is the first year records on the number of correctly fitting lifejackets have been kept. 

“We’d like to applaud those people taking water safety seriously, because the majority of skippers we saw did have correctly-fitting lifejackets for all on board,” said council harbourmaster, Richard Barnett. 

“But we are astounded that some skippers seem willing to endanger their passengers lives, and that children in particular are being put at such unnecessary risk. 

“The ski boat crash at Karapiro last Friday showed that even on inland waters, when you’re doing the right thing, you can unexpectedly end up in the water in a matter of seconds. 

“We’ve had some fantastic weather which has seen plenty of people enjoying time with friends and family on Waikato’s waterways already this summer. We want everyone to continue having fun, but to do so with the safety of all those on the water in mind,” Mr Barnett said.