Dylan Thorne

Dylan is the deputy editor of the Bay of Plenty Times.

Editorial: Boating tragedies tell tale


New Zealand's coastline is one of the country's most outstanding features.

Little wonder then that Kiwis are drawn to water activities. New Zealand's rivers, lakes and beaches are a hive of activity in the summer months with swimmers, surfers and pleasure craft dotting the water.

There are benefits to coastal life, but there are also risks.

Nationally there were more than 1600 people pulled from the surf last summer and 12 drownings.

These deaths focus attention on water safety.

They remind people how quickly conditions can change out on the water. In most cases the deaths are preventable.

Inquests for three men killed in boating tragedies were heard by coroner Dr Wallace Bain in Tauranga this week.

The inquests were held for Moses Vahai, who drowned in 2011 during a fishing expedition with his teenage son; Shaun Hogarth, 23, who died while fishing with three mates in rough seas in a stolen dinghy on October 16, 2012; and 56-year-old charter yacht skipper Richard Rusbatch, also presumed drowned after he went missing at sea last February without trace.

The coroner, who reserved his findings, described the death of Mr Vahai as "100 per cent preventable" and said the circumstances surrounding Mr Hogarth's death made it a "tragedy waiting to happen".

The court heard the 3m dinghy used by Mr Vahai, a father of eight, was grossly overloaded by more than 200kg and had no safety gear on board.

In the Hogarth case, there were no lifejackets or oars, and when the boat began sinking they tried to use empty beer bottles and an empty tackle box to try to bail out the water.

Both men left behind grieving loved ones and it is apparent that they would probably have been alive today if they had used more caution.

There are plenty of courses for basic maritime rules and water safety, but none are compulsory.

Countries such as Australia require skippers to have a licence if they want to take the helm of most boats and personal watercraft.

Skippers have to sit a formal test to prove they have the skill to be on the water safely.

Our Government has deemed licensing to be too expensive, difficult to implement and time-consuming for little safety benefit.

Tragic deaths such as those heard by the coroner this week would suggest the Government is taking a narrow view of the issue.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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