Queenstown harbourmaster Marty Black is calling for government action over drunk boaties after a bizarre incident on the Kawarau River highlighted the difference between driving and boating while drunk.
The trouble began began when two men were drinking while driving a jet boat along the Kawarau River near Queenstown on Friday night. The boat hit rocks by the Kawarau Falls Bridge just before 11pm.
A member of the public heard a crash by the bridge and saw the boat being pushed off a rock, then it hit another one before finally being pushed off again and heading back downstream, police said yesterday.
"There were concerns that the vessel was low in the water and may not be under control," police said.
Black was called out with a rescue helicopter.
He found the boat and its two male occupants, both in their early twenties, 100 metres downstream from a bridge where their car and boat trailer were parked.
The boat was damaged but the men were unharmed.
They said they had been travelling up the river when they got caught out by low water and lack of light.
The vessel was equipped with flares, a radio and lifejackets, but both men had been drinking.
Black said police breath-tested the men in front of him, one blowing 690 micrograms per litre of breath and the other "very close to that".
The legal limit is 400mcg/litre.
They were advised not to get in their car because of the drinking and told to make alternative arrangements for getting their boat home.
However, they ignored the warnings and about 15 minutes later police stopped the vehicle and boat trailer which was being driven by one of the men who had been in the jet boat.
The driver failed a breath screening test and was processed for drink-driving.
Black said local bylaws provided for a $500 instant fine for being in charge of a boat while intoxicated but there was no standard of proof indicated, and no test or level of intoxication specified.
"If push came to shove I don't think it would stand up in court," he said.
Black said the national Pleasure Boat Safety Forum wrote to the Minister of Transport about the issue several years ago but despite assurances, nothing had been done to standardise a law across the country.
"It's a bit frustrating when you can't do anything."
He said the problem needs to be solved by central government.
- Sunday Star Times