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Herald on Sunday editorial: Take sensible safety suggestions on-board

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There was a spike in the number of power boating-related drownings last year. Photo / Thinkstock
There was a spike in the number of power boating-related drownings last year. Photo / Thinkstock

In 2007, a new recreational boating safety strategy was introduced - a five-year plan. The product of an advisory forum comprising, among others, boating organisations, the ACC, the Coastguard and harbour masters, it was not a radical document. The registration of boats, as in Australia, was, for example, rejected. By and large, the strategy has worked. For much of the past five years, the number of fatalities has dropped even as the number of boats has increased.

Yet drunken boaties, such as the one reported in today's Herald on Sunday, confirm the safety message is still being ignored by some. As does last year's spike in the number of power boating-related drownings.

The strategy's major thrust is safety awareness campaigns focusing on skipper education. These are designed to address the failure to wear a lifejacket in boats under 6m in length, the inability to communicate distress, the effects of bad sea conditions, and the overuse of alcohol.

To tackle some of these more aggressively, the forum also sought law changes introducing mandatory alcohol limits, compulsory communication gear, and requiring small-boat skippers to decide when it is safe to take a lifejacket off, rather than when it is necessary to put one on, as now.

That all sounds sensible. But the Government has not acted. Perhaps it has been lulled into complacency. Maybe it foresees difficulties with an alcohol limit which, realistically, would come into play only if there were an accident. In any event, the strategy was envisaged as being a guide for boaties only for "the next five-plus years". If that wording is deliberately vague, it is clear the forum anticipated it would be revisited about this time.

As it is, boaties have to contend with far fewer regulations than their counterparts in most comparable countries. That situation can be justified only as long as fatalities are decreasing and boaties act sensibly. But evidence of drunkenness, a lax approach to lifejackets and last year's jump in fatalities should attract the interest of Parliament. If so, the advisory forum's proposed law changes must be a first port of call.

Either way, everyone should play their part in keeping our waters safe. Don't let that drunk family member get behind the wheel. Don't allow the family boat to go out without a communication device. And let's all encourage the responsible use of lifejackets.

- Herald on Sunday

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