Survivor set on safety

By Lawrence Gullery

Porangahau man and former navy diver Rob Hewitt is recruiting people around the country to deliver the messages of his water safety campaign, which is now going nationwide.

Mr Hewitt hit headlines when he survived 35 hours lost at sea in 2006. The survivor-turned-water-safety-crusader is now leading Day Skipper training courses at marae and kura kaupapa around New Zealand as part of an ActivePost and Water Safety New Zealand initiative, Kia Maanu, Kia Ora (Stay Afloat, Stay Alive).

He launched the courses in October 2012 from Te Aranga Marae in Flaxmere to equip participants with best practice boatmanship skills and ensure "our people return home to their families safely".

The Day Skipper training focuses on essential knowledge for all boaties. It includes boat handling, safety equipment, navigation, tides and weather, rules and regulations, how to handle an emergency and the most important knots.

He'd just finished a Day Skipper course when Hawke's Bay Today spoke to him yesterday.

The course had been offered to Flaxmere College, Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Ara Hou in Napier and Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Tamaki-Nui-A-Rua from Dannevirke over the past week.

"The training is about basic understanding and mechanics of being safe at sea, knowing boating. A lot of these kids are only 15 and 16 years old and the type of boating they've done has been with their dads or uncles.

"We're also trying to give them a different perspective on boating, one which may lead into job opportunities for these young people in the future."

Mr Hewitt, brother of former All Black Norm Hewitt, said he had about 40 pupils on his most recent Hawke's Bay programme. He had plans to work with pupils from Te Aute College in Central Hawke's Bay, where he attended school, as well as St John's College in Hastings.

"Predominantly this was a course focusing on Maori but we are also hoping to go wider and ask Napier Boys' High School and Lindisfarne in Hastings."

Mr Hewitt's programme to promote water safety and Day Skipper courses had spread to Auckland, Tauranga, Taupo, Rotorua with further courses on the books for Dunedin and Christchurch. He's been looking for people he can team up with to offer the programme in other communities.

"I've speaking to some of my former navy friends and talking to specific people in each area that might have a local connection of whakapapa with those people, to take ownership of the programme for the community.

"Long term we would like tutors around the country who can support the programme and bring more awareness of water safety, so when people ... go out boating, they're able to make good decisions.

"But also long term the aim is for people to enjoy their time with Tangaroa (the sea). That's what it's all about."

- Hawkes Bay Today

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