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Published: 2011-07-14 00:00:00

The results of an annual Waikato Regional Council survey have just been released and show that too many children under 12 are still not wearing lifejackets on boats.

Regional council harbourmasters and volunteer honorary enforcement officers surveyed 1172 skippers at 30 of the region’s boat ramps between 1 January and 25 April this year.

A greater proportion of surveys were completed on the Coromandel Peninsula due to the large number of boaties using this area.

Navigation safety manager Nicole Botherway said it was pleasing to see the majority of skippers were carrying enough lifejackets for all people onboard.

“However, it’s worrying that 19 per cent of children sighted were not wearing lifejackets when they left the boat ramp. And there were still 29 vessels with no lifejackets on board at all, and another 44 not carrying enough lifejackets for all people on the craft.

“Without question, wearing a lifejacket increases a person’s chances of survival if they find themselves in the water, so I find it astounding that skippers would endanger their lives and those of the people on board their boats, especially children,” Mrs Botherway said.

She pointed to last week’s findings by the Otago Southland coroner into the death of a 55-year-old man, who succumbed to cold and rough seas in May last year. He was one of two men on board a 4.7 metre fibreglass boat which overturned – the men were not wearing lifejackets, although the boat was equipped with them, and were also not carrying emergency communication equipment or survival gear.  

The rules require that a correctly sized lifejacket or personal floatation device (PFD) must be carried for each person on board and be readily accessible. In vessels less than six metres in length everyone on board must wear a lifejacket unless the skipper considers that it is safe not to.

Maritime New Zealand is working towards a national law change to make it compulsory for all people in boats smaller than six metres to wear a lifejacket.

Mrs Botherway added: “Our survey, along with the work done on the water by our harbourmasters, helps us identify gaps in education so we can deliver targeted campaigns to improve boat safety.

“We’ve been surveying skippers of recreational vessels at various boat ramps for the past five years to measure compliance with bylaws, as well as safe boating practices.

“During this year’s survey we found that most boaties carry their cellphone on board, but 42 per cent don’t put them in a dry bag, rendering them useless if an accident happens and they end up in the water.

“We’ll be looking at a combination of education and enforcement to increase the numbers of people carrying at least one form of usable and waterproof communication.

“On a positive note, it is pleasing to see an increase in the number of power boats complying with new rules that came into force 12 months ago requiring vessels to display a name,” Mrs Botherway said.

The council’s Navigation Safety programme aims to ensure safe and navigable waterways with the goal of reducing boating related deaths, injuries, accidents and incidents. 

You can read the 2011 Boat Ramps Survey Report by visiting http://www.waikatoregion.govt.nz/Services/Publications/Technical-Reports/TR-201111/