Recreational boaties in Marlborough should be legally required to wear lifejackets at all times, Marlborough Harbourmaster Alex van Wijngaarden says.
He and other New Zealand maritime management officials want Maritime New Zealand to strengthen the law from merely requiring access to lifejackets on recreational boats to making it compulsory to wear them.
Speaking to the Marlborough District Council environment committee this month, Mr van Wijngaarden said that for three years the emphasis had been on education rather than forcing people to wear lifejackets, but it could be time to become more hard-nosed.
He hoped Maritime NZ would review its law on lifejackets. If not, any push might help drive the council to change its bylaw to make wearing lifejackets compulsory in Marlborough.
Examples of preventable drownings around New Zealand, such as that of two fishermen who died after falling into the ocean with five others when their overloaded boat capsized after being hit by a wave west of Waiheke Island in November, were behind the proposed changes.
"You only have to look at the deaths to see that people are at risk without lifejackets."
Infringement notices had been issued to three people with no lifejackets on their boats in Marlborough this summer, out of a total of 66 formal warnings issued.
Lifejacket use had improved in the past two summers but it was not unusual to see mum and the children wearing them but not dad, he said.
Travelling too fast close to the shore was an ongoing problem in the Marlborough Sounds, Mr van Wijngaarden said. The 5-knot speed limit inside 200 metres was to protect people swimming there.
"It is hard to see a head in the water and the consequences can be disastrous." He recommended prosecution after two warnings for such an offence.
A recreational boat owner at Picton Marina, who did not wish to be named, said he thought it was good idea to wear lifejackets on boats six metres long and under because there was a high risk of slipping overboard or the boat tipping.
"You've got to have them in the boat anyway, but I can see how some people might get a bit uncomfortable in them all day."
He said he typically wore one when the boat was moving but tended to take it off when fishing.
Commercial fishing boat owner and operator Graeme Fishburn operates out of Picton Marina and said most of the recreational fishermen he had seen travelling on boats wore their lifejackets, so it would not be much of a hassle to make it compulsory.
"Most of them wear them anyway these days. It's easy to fall off a small boat so it's probably a good idea."
Lifejackets were always available for all crew on his boat, Lady Waiana, but they were inconvenient to wear while hauling fish. "People can wear them if they want to grab one, but they can be a hindrance when you're dealing with fish."
- The Marlborough Express