A crackdown is looming on drinking and boating with commercial operators the focus of a Government report due out next year.
Associate Minister of Transport Simon Bridges told The Nelson Mail, following a coroner's ruling into the death of a Nelson man at Havelock marina, that alcohol and boating was a serious issue and a report was due by June next year.
The move is welcomed by Tasman District Council harbourmaster Steve Hainstock, who said the need for government agencies to address the issue was "well overdue".
Mr Bridges said managing the risk posed by alcohol was an important issue for recreational boating, but he had been advised that commercial operators would be the focus of the report.
Coroner Carla na Nagara said in a ruling released this month that while the man's death in the marina in June last year was accidental, it was avoidable and would not have happened had he not been drunk.
The 64-year-old died of a heart attack after he fell into cold water while drunk, a post-mortem found.
"His death was the realisation of significant risk implicit in being drunk on a boat, even when it is moored in the relative safety of a marina," Ms na Nagara said.
The Transport Accident Investigation Commission marine safety recommendations issued to Maritime New Zealand in late 2010 said that until legislation is made setting limits for, and testing of alcohol and other performance impairing substances for recreational and commercial boat drivers, the risk of alcohol-related accidents will be elevated.
TAIC recommended that the Secretary for Transport address this safety issue by "promoting appropriate legislation to set maximum allowable levels of alcohol and other performance impairing substances for persons in charge of recreational and commercial craft", and supporting legislation to allow testing for such levels in these cases.
Maritime New Zealand said the issue was part of a wide-ranging consideration by the Ministry of Transport of the use of alcohol and drugs in the transport sector.
Mr Bridges said because boating was such a diverse activity, using a wide variety of craft at locations throughout the country, any sort of alcohol-limit regime would be extremely difficult to impose and enforce.
That was all the more so, he said, because the risk from alcohol applies to everyone on board a boat, not just the skipper.
"For this reason, whatever recommendations are made as part of the ministry's report, personal responsibility will remain vital to ensuring safety on the water."
Mr Hainstock said harbourmasters as a group had been "quietly nudging" for change for some time, and the matter was raised at a meeting last year.
He said there were countries around the world that had introduced rules around alcohol use and limits that applied to recreational boaties, but it did create enforcement difficulties.
Mr Hainstock said what concerned him most, which was supported by previous incidents, was the number of yachties, in particular, who holidayed with "enough supplies needed to enjoy themselves", and who then placed themselves at greater risk on the water.
"Your guard is down when you've had a few drinks."
Mr Hainstock said they "did not want to stop people enjoying themselves" but consideration of the wider ramifications was needed.
"Personal responsibility comes into this to a large degree."
Mr Bridges said authorities like Maritime NZ already had a wide range of powers to take regulatory action in response to irresponsible or dangerous behaviour on the water, which may include activity influenced by alcohol.
"I would urge recreational boaties to heed Maritime NZ's message to avoid alcohol.
"It impairs your reaction times, ability to cope if something goes wrong, and survival time if you end up in the water."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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