EDITORIAL: Waka trip another act of folly

Louis Pierard
Combine New Zealanders' love of watersports with our long, often remote coastline and abundant rivers, and the risk of drowning is considerable.
We have one of the highest rates of drowning in the developed world. We die at twice the per capita rate of Australia and nearly four times that of Britain. Figures released last week by Water Safety New Zealand show that for the first five months of the year New Zealanders are drowning at a rate of more than two a week - to the end of May, 53 people drowned.
Of course, it shouldn't be that way because the danger couldn't be more obvious.
We know what causes it. We have been warned repeatedly that we should always be careful near water. The threat of drowning makes fishing the most dangerous of sports and it also stalks the very young - New Zealand has an outrageously large number of pre-schoolers dying, through lack of supervision, in swimming pools, stream and baths.
That danger persuades smart parents to ensure their children learn to swim at an early age. It is also underlined when folk foolishly tempt fate at sea in conditions that should induce the wise to stay ashore.
As with driving at excessive speed on the road, that artificial sense of immunity - that nasty things always happen to other people - is the guarantee of heartbreak. Staggeringly, people still put to sea when they shouldn't.
The waka ama capsize off Napier on Saturday could have been a tragedy for the six who took the craft out in three-metre swells when wiser heads should have prevailed.
The fact that it didn't end in disaster (thanks to the efforts of Coastguard, who reported the conditions were so rough they couldn't even see the craft on the water) does not make it any less a compelling illustration of the need to read the weather - and the forecast - and profit from the unhappy experiences of those who didn't.
We never lack for such cautionary tales.

Early this year a boatload of drunks ran aground north of Tangoio in an incident described by police as "what not to do" when hitting the high seas.
The trailer sailer, skippered by an intoxicated 17-year-old, was in a poor state. All five aboard had no lifejackets and there was no marine radio.
The waka ama crew at least wore jackets. But when chancing one's arm in poor conditions nothing short of a Good Samaritan, in the form of the Coastguard, can indemnify such acts of folly.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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