Tragedy highlights need for lifejackets

LEIGHTON KEITH
Last updated 05:00 03/12/2013

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Taranaki boaties and water-sports enthusiasts were taking a safety-first approach yesterday after the drowning of a father and daughter during the weekend.

Zoujie Cai, 40, and his 6-year-old daughter Zexuan were kayaking on Lake Tarawera on Sunday.

The girl was wearing an adult-sized lifejacket which came off when she fell into the water, police say, but her father was not wearing one.

The father desperately tried to hold his daughter's head above the water for up to eight minutes after they fell out of their kayak, before they drowned in front of shocked onlookers. Emergency services arrived two minutes later.

Coastguard Taranaki president Lee Drummond said the deaths highlighted the importance of wearing lifejackets.

"It brings home to everybody just how vulnerable we actually are," Mr Drummond said.

Lifejackets should be snug-fitting and children should not be able to fall out of the bottom of them, he said. "Small children should have a crotch strap on their lifejackets to retain them in.

"It's essential that children are provided with one that fits and that they use it."

Mr Drummond said 70 per cent of people who drowned while boating could have survived if they had been wearing lifejackets. Lewis Sutton, his son, Wade, and Jeremy Drysdale, were enjoying some wakeboarding and kneeboarding at New Plymouth's Lake Rotomanu.

Mr Sutton said he had a range of lifejackets aboard his boat.

"We've got lifejackets for everyone and, if we are at sea, we make sure that they're all wearing them," he said.

Wade, 15, said he always wore a lifejacket because he was not the best swimmer.

"It's good to know that if you come off, you are going to come back up," he said.

Jeremy Drysdale, 16, said he always wore the correct-sized lifejacket whether he was kayaking or enjoying other water sports.

"I know if I'm going down a river and knock my head there will be something to keep me up," he said.

"It's always good to keep them tight."

Ross Smith, who had just returned to the boat ramp at Port Taranaki after a day's fishing, said he had lifejackets for everybody aboard.

"We make sure they put them on before we leave port. We don't move until everyone has got one on," Mr Smith said. "Certainly, when we are moving in and out of rivermouths, I wouldn't allow anyone aboard not to be wearing one."

Mr Smith said while lifejackets were adjustable it was important to wear the right size. "The biggest concern is probably with kids having a lifejacket."

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- Taranaki Daily News

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