OPINION: Picture this: It's a lovely summer's day down at the beach, the surf lifesaving club is holding a gala day to raise funds so it can continue to provide its very valuable service, and one of the money-raising activities involves taking members of the public for rides in the club's Inflatable Rescue Boats (IRB).
The rides are gentle and all aboard are wearing lifejackets. Overall the rides are short, fun and safe tastes of the capabilities of the IRBs and their crews, which have been responsible for thousands of rescues throughout New Zealand.
The scenario was a real one. But it's now been revealed surf clubs should not have been providing the rides. It's illegal, because Maritime New Zealand rules do not allow clubs to offer IRB rides to the public for hire or reward. And, as a result, Surf Lifesaving New Zealand has told surf clubs throughout the country to stop doing it.
The instructions have been issued as a consequence of the action of a South Taranaki District Council staff member who felt obliged to ask via an online local government forum whether or not it was legal for the Opunake Surf Life Saving Club to offer fundraising IRB rides at the annual Opunake Beach Carnival.
Why he or she felt obliged to ask the question isn't known, but it all got referred to Maritime NZ, which had to advise that the activity is against the rules.
It's a good bet Maritime NZ will be highly embarrassed over having to make that pronouncement. It, of all organisations, will be crucially aware of the importance of those young men and women who crew the IRBs. They regularly save lives at the country's popular surf beaches and are also heavily involved in numerous maritime safety operations - often at the request of Maritime NZ itself.
The organisation will also be very aware that taking families for rides in an IRB in return for a small donation is certainly not the same as chartering one of the little boats for hire or reward.
The exercise is simply to make a little extra money for club coffers, and it's common knowledge every surf club in New Zealand needs every dollar it can raise.
But rules are rules, and bureaucrats are bound to abide by them.
We suggest that in this case official organisations, whether local bodies or government departments, ask themselves what is important and what is not.
In that regard they should remember that throughout New Zealand, volunteer lifeguards patrol beaches and work with the public to prevent people getting in trouble. Statistics show that each summer they perform more than 100,000 preventative actions during tens of thousands of hours of beach patrols.
Offering as much support as possible - financial and bureaucratic - to small-town surf clubs so they can continue to protect citizens in this way is important. Inquiring whether they might be breaking the law by offering IRB rides in return for a gold coin donation certainly is not.
Finding a way to make something happen might be harder than simply banning it, but in this case it seems a logical option.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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