Editorial: Tragically unnecessary

It has to be discouraging at times to be a member of one of New Zealand's volunteer rescue services.

Whether that be a search and rescue crew that gets called on when trampers or climbers get into difficulty, or a service like the coastguard, it must be heart-rending, and more than a little irritating, when they find themselves called into action on behalf of people who haven't taken the proper precautions before heading out on a tramp, a fishing trip, or whatever other recreational activity they may be partaking in.

The latest frustration for the ‘rescue community' came just yesterday, with two fishermen drowning after the 5-metre aluminium boat they were on flipped in the Hauraki Gulf. The pair were among seven on the craft, which was reportedly overloaded. The other five occupants were rescued.

A spokesman for the police maritime unit said the two deaths would have been avoided if the men had taken life jackets. The weather forecast was for strong winds, which caused sizeable swells.

That's absolutely right, but surely it should be a more black and white situation than that. In craft venturing to sea, the occupants should be wearing life jackets. It's as simple as that. Indeed, anyone taking to the water in any kind of craft, be it lake, river, or ocean, should be wearing a life jacket, because it's simply impossible to determine what hazards may arise.

Of course, people swim in these bodies of water and there's a risk attached to that. Plainly they can't be expected to wear life jackets, although checking for possible hazards is obviously a priority. But one assumes that people who take to the water to swim have some swimming ability. Quite often, it seems, those who drown after boats come to grief don't.

It's not clear if that was the case with the two men who died yesterday morning. In their case, it may well have been that the roughness of the sea overwhelmed them, but often it seems people who venture out ill-equipped are not the best swimmers. So there's an inherent, and foolhardy, reliance on the craft not getting into any trouble.

Tragically, there have been several drownings in South Canterbury lakes in the last few years, where life jackets were not worn. Not surprisingly, the call for their use to be made compulsory has followed.

Yes, there is an expense to having life jackets available. Yes, perhaps at times they're a pain, a hindrance, to wear, but they're there for a reason, because when things go wrong, they can save lives, or at least provide crucial extra time for rescuers to reach those in trouble.

At the end of the day, it's just common sense.

The Timaru Herald