Drunken boaties pose conundrum

ANNA WILLIAMS
Last updated 10:40 20/02/2014
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Boaties driving drunk can do as much damage as a drink-driver in a car, but making it illegal poses a conundrum, says Marlborough harbourmaster Alex van Wijngaarden.

Changing the legislation to make it illegal to drink while driving a boat would require a huge amount of resources, Captain van Wijngaarden said.

"I don't know what the answer is. I wish there was a straight answer," he said.

The issue was highlighted at the weekend when Queenstown's harbourmaster called for government action over drunken boaties after an incident on the Kawarau River.

Two men crashed a jet boat into rocks twice because of low water in the river. Police breath tested them and found both were over the legal alcohol limit for driving a vehicle. The men were warned not to drive a car, but were stopped 15 minutes later driving towing the boat.

The National Pleasure Boat Safety Forum has recommended the creation of a mandatory alcohol limit for skippers, and a testing regime.

Jetboating New Zealand, which is part of the safety forum, backs calls to close the loophole that prevents drunken skippers being prosecuted.

But Captain van Wijngaarden said more research was needed to establish whether there was a major problem with boaties driving drunk.

He had come across drunk boaties on the water a "handful of times" in the past three years, he said.

Changing the legislation to make it illegal depended on how much people wanted to spend, he said

It couldn't be done effectively with the resources available, he said.

"Where are you setting checkpoints? What resources will you use? It's a bit of a conundrum."

Some people sat on a boat, had a few beers and didn't drive. Making drinking on a boat illegal wasn't fair to those people who did drink responsibly, he said.

"Obviously some people still consider going out on the water and drinking to excess is OK," he said.

"We just don't have the luxury of setting up checkpoints along 1800km of coastline."

Kaikoura MP Colin King said changing the law seemed very sensible, but it would be very hard to control.

Policing the Marlborough Sounds would be difficult and costly, he said.

"Is the taxpayer prepared to have water police?" he said.

It was an issue that needed to be discussed in detail when it wasn't an election year.

"We've got to work through it away from the emotive times of election year."

Sergeant Kris Payne, of Picton, said he couldn't recall stopping a drink-driver who had been driving a boat before they got into a car.

Changes in the way people behaved on boats was more of a priority, he said.

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"I think there should be a push for people being more sensible on boats in general."

- The Marlborough Express

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