Editorial: Vital safety message ignored again

19:11, Nov 23 2012

This weekend, tens of thousands of Kiwis will take to the water in boats. Many of them will also be needlessly putting their lives on the line.

Too many New Zealanders drown in boating accidents because they are not wearing lifejackets or do not have them on board. The toll was added to last Sunday with the deaths of two men after the overloaded boat they were fishing from flipped and threw its occupants into the water in the Hauraki Gulf.

It is only thanks to the efforts of the crew of another boat nearby and the quick arrival of the Auckland Coastguard that the number of victims was not higher. None of the other five men on the capsized boat were wearing lifejackets, despite the prevailing rough conditions.

Three other men also owe their lives to the Auckland Coastguard after an incident two days previously. They were found clinging to a buoy after their boat overturned. None of them were wearing lifejackets either.

There is nothing onerous about the rules that require all boats to have lifejackets on board and those that dictate the circumstances in which they must be worn. Nor is there anything "nanny state" about them - a term that is too often bandied about to deride straightforward and sensible safety regulations.

Maritime NZ requires boats to carry a lifejacket of the correct size for each person on board. The agency recommends the equipment be worn at all times, as there is often little warning of a mishap on the water, and it requires them to be worn by children and non-swimmers on boats less than 6 metres in length. Skippers are also legally responsible for ensuring lifejackets are worn by all passengers in situations of heightened risk, such as bar crossings, rough weather and emergencies.


Last weekend's tragedy in Auckland could have been avoided had those simple measures and other basic rules for safety at sea been followed.

Seven men had crowded into a 5-metre boat that set out in spite of a strong wind warning from MetService. At the time the boat tipped over, it was being battered by winds of up to 23 knots and a 2-metre swell. Not only should the boat have had lifejackets on board, in those conditions, everyone should have been wearing one.

Strapping on a lifejacket does not guarantee survival in the event of a boating mishap. They do not protect, for example, against hypothermia, which also claims many lives at sea. However, the chances of staying alive long enough to be rescued are much higher for people who are wearing lifejackets than those who are not.

There have been 13 deaths in New Zealand this year as a result of recreational boating. Seven of those victims were not wearing lifejackets.

It is difficult to fathom why such a basic and vital safety message is being so regularly ignored, at such a tragic cost, especially when the numbers involved with complying with the law are crunched.

Quality life jackets can be bought brand new for less than $100 each - a fraction of the cost of buying and maintaining a boat and less than half the $200 fine local authorities usually levy for skippers who fail to carry them on board. No price can be put on a life.

In praise of ... fine Wellingtonians.

Every spring, the call goes out from The Dominion Post for nominations for the Wellingtonian of the Year Awards. And every year, suggestions roll in for each of the nine categories.

The difficult task the judges face in shortlisting finalists reflects the enormous number of people whose efforts and achievements make this region such a great place to live, work, play, learn and do business.

Neville Jordan, who won the science and technology category in this year's awards, and who was also named overall 2012 Wellingtonian of the Year on Thursday, is a prime example.

He grew up poor in Petone and his first taste of working life came in a freezing works at the age of 13.

Now worth an estimated $60 million, he heads Wellington firm Endeavour Capital, which he founded to help fledgling Kiwi companies get off the ground.

His attitude was summed up in comments during a Dominion Post interview in January: ''If you reinvest the capital then you grow more companies, then they grow more companies, and you get this geometric growth of prosperity for the country.''

It is just the kind of can-do approach the world badly needs, and is a trait the winners of the other eight categories also show in spades.

The Wellington region is lucky to have such fine citizens.

The Dominion Post