Coroner rules lifejacket could have saved Kaikoura fisherman

The man was fishing from a gravel sandbar between the Clarence River and the sea. (File photo)
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The man was fishing from a gravel sandbar between the Clarence River and the sea. (File photo)

A fisherman dragged out to sea by a rogue wave could have survived if he was wearing a lifejacket, a coroner says.

Coroner Brigitte Windley made the comment in her findings on a man who died while surfcasting for salmon at the mouth of the Clarence River, north of Kaikoura, last year.

Kaikoura Boating Club president Ted Howard said few fishermen wore lifejackets at the popular fishing spot because they were bulky and sometimes got tangled in fishing gear.

But Coroner Windley said a lifejacket could have saved the man's life.

He was one of five to die a preventable death while fishing from the land in 2016.

Coroner Windley said the man, who cannot be named, was an experienced fisherman who was used to fishing at the popular spot, and a strong swimmer and surfer.

It was near high tide, some time after 9am, with a good swell when he and a friend went down to the shore on March 28 last year, her report said.

The man was fishing from a small gravel sandbar between the river and the sea, wearing chest-high waders with attached rubber gumboots.

His friend was fishing from a rock about 30 metres away when he heard the man call out, and saw a "freakish" large wave break over him, knocking the man off his feet and pulling him into the river.

"When the tide was going back out it was receding extremely fast. You couldn't swim against it, you just had to go with it and [the man] knew this," the friend said.

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"I saw [the man] roll onto his back and he was sucked through the mouth and within a minute was about 30 metres out to sea."

His friend called emergency services just after 10am, and an air and sea search was launched.

He was found about 400 metres south of the river mouth, between 10 and 25m from the shore, lying face-down in the water.

People on a local fishing boat pulled him from the water about 10.40am. He could not be revived.

His death was reported to the coroner, and Coroner Windley confirmed the cause of death as drowning.

The sea was adverse and unpredictable with a high tide and a strong swell, which made their fishing trip risky, she said.

The man's waders were new and of good quality.

There was no way to determine if his waders affected his ability to recover, and it was unlikely his clothing was waterlogged since his friend saw him floating on his back, Coroner Windley said.

Coroner Windley said land-based fishing deaths accounted for 6 per cent of all preventable drownings last year, and drownings in tidal waters increased from the five-year average of 10 to 16 last year.

"Ultimately, had [the man] been wearing a lifejacket, his chances of survival would likely have been significantly increased."

People going fishing should follow WaterSafety New Zealand's safety reminders, which included wearing a lifejacket, she said.

There were lifejackets available that were less bulky for fishing, she noted.

The coroner granted final name suppression at the request of the man's wife.

WaterSafety fishing guidelines

Learn to swim to survive – if you fall in, you have a higher chance of surviving

Check the marine weather forecast including the swell, tide and wind strength and direction

Get to know the area you will be fishing, listen to advice and obey all warning signs

Leave detailed information – tell someone responsible where you are going and when you are due to return

Never fish alone, make sure you always take a buddy with you

Take and wear a lifejacket

Take at least two methods of communication, such as mobile phone and VHF radio

When rock fishing

Wear a lifejacket

Pay particular attention to swell and tide information

Never fish in exposed areas during rough or large seas

Spend at least 10 minutes observing the sea conditions before approaching the rock ledge

Never turn your back on the sea

Pay attention to warning signs

Never fish from wet rocks where waves and spray have obviously been sweeping over them

 - The Marlborough Express

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