Councils get clout to enforce water safety
Regional council staff have been given extra powers to investigate dangerous behaviour on the water, as more boaties hit the region's waterways ignorant of basic maritime rules.
Maritime New Zealand director Keith Manch yesterday announced the new measures, which will give designated council staff the power to collect evidence, including gaining warrants to search premises.
"While information, education and assistance can be effective in supporting compliance, enforcement action is also an important way of supporting safety," Mr Manch said.
He said the effectiveness of the regional council's new powers would be assessed with a view to granting other local authorities the wider powers.
Regional council's navigation safety programme manager Nicole Botherway said the new powers would make it easier to gather evidence and identify the cause of incidents.
Regional council staff have had the new powers over summer.
Ms Botherway told the Times it was important people using Waikato's waterways understood safety was paramount and that reckless behaviour would be investigated.
"Things are happening on the water all the time and unfortunately someone is going to get really badly hurt or worse at some point," she said.
A sentence has been handed down in one case and another two are before the courts, with four other incidents under active investigation by the council.
The council successfully prosecuted two jet boat drivers involved in a serious crash on the Waiomou Stream, near Matamata, in 2011.
"Our waterways are certainly becoming more accessible than they used to be, with more people buying boats and jet skis.
"Lots more people are on the water and a lot more people don't know the rules and that's what is getting people into trouble more than anything. There are some people out there who think it's ‘keep left' like the road, but it's ‘keep right'; it's international maritime rules".
Ms Botherway said education was an important tool for changing behaviour on the water, and encouraged all boaties to complete a coastguard education course.
"Our philosophy hasn't changed, the extra powers simply close a loophole. We've always had the power to investigate incidents on the water, under the Local Government Act, but that was about the harbourmaster on the water. Once a jet ski was put on a trailer and taken home we couldn't get to it . . . now we can."