Waikato Regional Council has confirmed it will erect new signage at Whangamata following recommendations from the coroner who investigated the tragic death of 15-year-old Morrinsville paddleboarder Amie Russell.
Amie was holding on to a paddleboard when she lost her grip and was dragged by the current under a boat moored in the Whangamata harbour. She became stuck under the vessel, unable to free herself likely because of her leg rope becoming wrapped around the boat's keel. By the time others managed to free her and get her to the surface she was unresponsive.
Following an inquest, coroner Gordon Matenga recommended stand-up paddleboard users wear an appropriate personal flotation device and use a quick-release leg rope when in bodies of water that have strong currents.
He also recommended the council place signage around Whangamata harbour warning paddleboarders of the danger of strong currents and the need to be careful near moored boats.
The council’s maritime services team leader Richard Barnett confirmed warning signs are due to be erected in a number of locations at Whangamata within the next month.
“The coroner’s recommendation to put up signs to alert people to the risk of this type of mishap at Whangamata is a sensible one. The signage will warn paddlers of the strong tidal currents locally, and the related hazards posed by moored vessels and other structures.”
Mr Barnett, who provided advice to the inquest, said he also agreed strongly with the coroner’s recommendation that a quick release leg rope be used in “white water, rivers and bodies of water which have a strong current”.
An alternative to quick release leashes could be for paddleboarders using Whangamata harbour to wear an appropriate conventional lifejacket and remain un-leashed to the board until clear of potential hazards.
“At that point the leash could be re-attached,” said Mr Barnett.
“While there would be a small increased risk of becoming separated from the board while not attached there would be a much reduced risk of the paddler becoming entangled with a boat or structure.”