Editorial: Lifejacket law must change

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I grew up around boats.

When I was a child, my parents nearly always had one, whether it was a power boat or a trailer yacht.

They were fun times. But we always took safety seriously and I always wore a lifejacket while sailing or motoring along.

I thought of those days this week after national media revelations the Government came close to making it compulsory to wear lifejackets.

A 3 News report, using documents supplied under the Official Information Act, revealed the Government backed off making wearing lifejackets compulsory on all boats under 6m just a week before it was to be signed off by Cabinet in 2010.

Officials had been pushing for the change but Steven Joyce, then transport minister, had a change of heart.

We are lucky we live in a region that has plenty of boating opportunities, and a country surrounded by water.

Given this, the Bay of Plenty Times took the story on further yesterday, asking politicians, the Coastguard and the Tauranga Yacht and Boat Club for their views.

Labour maintains such a law would have saved at least seven lives each year since then, and describes the about-face as bizarre.

Associate Transport Minister and Tauranga MP Simon Bridges says those figures are based on a study conducted between 2001 and 2006 and towards the end of the study it became law that boaties must have lifejackets on board and wear them in dangerous sea conditions.

He says usage has increased since then and is unconvinced making them compulsory would encourage more people to wear them.

Local Coastguard chief Graeme Hull says education is better than legislation when it comes to lifejackets, and making it law in itself would not reduce drowning statistics.

The Tauranga Yacht and Boat Club requires members to wear lifejackets unless on a keel boat.

This is a no-brainer in my view. If lifejackets can save lives, why are they not compulsory on boats under 6m? I find it hard to accept that making something illegal fails to change behaviour.

In cars, we have to wear seatbelts. On bicycles and motorcycles, we have to wear helmets, and even on planes we have to belted in at times for our own protection.

We have these safety measures, enforced by law, for good reason. The law is there to protect people from accidents, from their own behaviour and from the behaviour of others.

Maritime NZ boat ramp surveys this year show up to 99 per cent of boaties were following the law by carrying lifejackets.

This is positive. But it also suggests many people would also wear them if it was compulsory.

New Zealand's boating legislation is behind the times, compared with our road laws.

I find it strange anyone who is at least 15 can be the skipper of a power boat capable of doing more than 10 knots, and no one has to wear lifejackets under normal conditions.

It is time the law was changed. Everyone on a moving boat should have to wear a lifejacket.

It just might save a life.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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