Education, not legislation, is the key to recreational boating safety, says former Coastguard NZ president Harold Mason, of Nelson.
But Harbourmaster Dave Duncan is advocating compulsory licensing of all boaties, including dinghy users, and mandatory training courses right down to the level of stand-up paddleboarders.
Mr Mason, a Coastguard NZ life member, said education was the answer.
"Licensing does not prevent road crashes. You cannot legislate against stupidity, but education and safety advertising works."
He said that the percentage of boating deaths and accidents was low in relation to the high level of boating activity in the region and around New Zealand. He had been at the port's boat ramp last week and was impressed by the number of boaties wearing their lifejackets.
Emergencies that did occur were ably handled by Coastguard Nelson, which had trained volunteers on 24/7 standby ready to mobilise via the police's 111 emergency system.
"We have enough laws and regulations restricting our freedom, most of them of course necessary, but let's keep our love of boating free of too much regulation," Mr Mason said. "There are already adequate rules, both nationally as well as local bylaws, and when these are broken I have complete confidence that Captain Duncan and his staff will prosecute."
The day skipper and boatmaster courses promoted by Coastguard NZ's boating education service had been successfully run in Nelson for many years by Brian and Hilary Tear, and Mr Mason believed this was the reason the region had arguably the best boating safety statistics in the country.
"Can you just imagine the bureaucracy involved in licensing, let alone the policing of it? It would be an absolute mammoth task and cost, and to police it would be just mind-blowing.
"I'd rather see that money go into education - and it has to be continuous," Mr Mason said.
Captain Duncan said the licensing he advocated didn't have to be any more than a basic course in boat handling, but would make sure that everyone got some training before taking out a boat.
He said he agreed with Mr Mason that Coastguard gave great service, and that the Nelson training courses were "very superior for a new boatie". But he believed as few as 10 per cent of boaties would take the courses. "At least the basics would have kept a few more people safe this summer. I believe compulsory licensing would be a good course for New Zealand to take."
The idea had been discussed before and he would be raising it again at the annual mid-year harbourmasters' national conference, to "see what the mood of the nation is".
He had received much more positive than negative feedback since speaking out on the issue last week, Captain Duncan said. Once people understood that anyone could buy a large launch and take it out with only the ability to turn the key, they tended to agree with his stance.
But there were a lot of incidents with small craft such as dinghies, and he believed even stand-up paddleboarding should require 10 minutes of instruction on safety and risk assessment.
"We've seen a huge improvement in the safety of the paddleboarders at Port Nelson because the two commercial operators are going a long way to assist in their education."
Earlier in the summer, Captain Duncan also said he believed all stand-up paddleboarders should be wearing a flotation device. The level of compliance had gone up markedly since then, he said.
"What we have seen is those that are out there that do not have the floatation device, we have seen them get into trouble, and those that do have it, we've seen them use it to get out of trouble."
Although he had "some empathy" for paddleboarders who questioned why they should have to comply with this law, he said "lifejackets today can be quite sexy".
"They can be a little belt that goes round your waist, the only time you use it is when you need it - you take it out of the belt, pop it over your head and you have a fully-inflated lifejacket."
Summer hadn't been ideal for boating so far and he had rescued "a considerable number" of people, but overall behaviour on the water had improved noticeably, and he was pleased to see more people than ever before were wearing lifejackets.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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