Water sport stars push jet ski safety

By Joseph Aldridge

Olympic kayaker Luuka Jones and professional surfer Matt Hewitt have joined forces to promote a jet ski safety campaign.

With higher numbers of jet skis on the water each year, riders should observe basic safety rules so that all water users can enjoy themselves, the pair say.

The campaign has been organised by Tauranga Harbourmaster Jennifer Roberts who said rising numbers of incidents, accidents and near misses involving jet skis had prompted the initiative.

Jet skis are as powerful and fast as a car but riders do not need a driver's licence and only need to be over 15 years of age.

Most jet ski incidents in the Bay of Plenty involved males aged between 17 and 30, Ms Roberts said.

"We don't want to spoil anyone's fun but people need to be reminded that they can have fun and still be safe at the same time."

"We want people to be mindful of others and not to fool around and put themselves and others at risk."

Tauranga surfer Matt Hewitt said surfers often used jet skis to transport themselves to difficult to access locations or to tow each other into big waves that would otherwise be too difficult to catch.

Hewitt has recently returned to Tauranga from an international surfing tour where he had the opportunity to get towed into big waves by a jet ski.

"I've been to [Matakana] Island twice since I've been home and I've noticed the increase of jet skis and how many young people have bought little boats, and jet skis, and are out there on the water.

"I want to endorse this campaign because most of them do not have the common sense of water awareness and what the ocean is capable of."

The consequences of a jet ski accident were potentially life threatening, Hewitt said. "If you were paddling in the water and a jet ski didn't see you and popped over a wave and ran you over, you would definitely get knocked out and could drown."

Olympic kayaker Luuka Jones said she often encountered jet skiers while she was paddling and she was concerned that some did not even have driver's licences yet were in charge of powerful, fast vehicles.

Jones and Hewitt jumped on a Harbour Master jet ski in front of the Mount Ocean Sports Club yesterday to learn some safety tips from Peter Head of Elements Water Sports.

The organisers of the campaign have produced posters and stickers displaying the five major safety messages they wanted to promote this summer.

The messages are; look out for your mates, go slow in shallow, you wouldn't speed through a park, it takes three to ski, and wear a lifejacket.

Regional harbourmasters and maritime volunteers will be out in force over coming months to remind jet skiers of the rules.

Dangerous riders can be fined but the council preferred to educate rather than regulate, Ms Roberts said.

"Rather than hand out tickets right away, we mostly talk to boaties, jet ski users and other people out on the water and find that often, if they have done something wrong, it's because they didn't know the rules,"she added.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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