Small craft users are taking suicidal risks around Port Nelson, says Harbourmaster Dave Duncan.
Many little boats are used in the harbour and outside it, with a great increase in the number of kayaks and stand-up paddleboards in the past two years. Fishing from specialised kayaks has caught on, with their owners often stationary on the water at dawn and dusk.
Bill Evans' picture, taken on Sunday morning, illustrates the risks, with a small craft in the harbour entrance, the Cut, as the Sealord trawler Ocean Dawn returns from a voyage.
Captain Duncan said he saw one kayak towing another with two people on board towards the Cut on Monday night, with none of the three wearing lifejackets. Also on Monday, two kayakers went under the wharf as the giant car carrier Trans Future 5 was berthing, not coming out until they'd passed the end of the 60,000 tonne ship.
"That's suicidal, just crazy. It's very disappointing when that sort of stupidity goes on.
"The silly season is well and truly starting."
There is an exclusion zone of 500 metres ahead and 100m each side of a large ship, so with the Cut being 160m wide, no other vessel should be using it at the same time, Captain Duncan said. There was little a ship's master could do if suddenly faced with a small craft in the path of the ship.
All small craft, including kayaks and paddleboards, had to carry lifejackets or buoyancy aids. These must be worn in a place of heightened risk, such as the Cut.
The paddleboard rental business based at Tahunanui Beach was doing a good job of making its customers wear buoyancy aids but other people were less careful.
"We've seen plenty of people fall off their paddleboards and be unable to get back on them until they've literally kicked ashore.
"A lot of people say the paddleboard is their buoyancy aid - that doesn't stop them getting cold and hypothermic."
By comparison, surfers usually wore wetsuits, which kept them warm and had buoyancy built in, he said.
Modern lifejackets and buoyancy aids were a far cry from their predecessors, no longer bulky and cumbersome, and should be worn.
Captain Duncan said he and his team would increase patrols over summer. Penalties ranged from $200 for not carrying lifejackets up to $20,000 for reckless use of a vessel but patrols were "more about the education process".
"If someone continues to ignore us, certainly we're happy to issue the ticket."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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