Bernard Orsman

Bernard Orsman is Super City reporter for the NZ Herald.

Boaties hit back at lifejacket law

Boating club says proposed bylaw to force wearing of buoyancy aids on small craft won't stop drownings.

Police searched near Mangere Bridge in May last year for a father and son who drowned when their dinghy capsized. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Police searched near Mangere Bridge in May last year for a father and son who drowned when their dinghy capsized. Photo / Sarah Ivey

A push by Auckland Council to make the wearing of lifejackets compulsory on small boats is another case of "Nanny State" and will not reduce the number of drownings, a boating club says.

The rules will have unexpected consequences like the smacking bill, compulsory bicycle helmets and paddling pool fencing, the 400-strong Hibiscus Coast Boating Club said in a submission on a new lifejacket bylaw.

Today the council's regulatory and bylaw committee will consider replacing the current rules for boats to carry lifejackets with a new bylaw requiring compulsory wearing of lifejackets on boats less than 6m at all times, with some exceptions. The committee will make a recommendation to the full council before the proposed bylaw goes out for public comment next year.

The drive has come from two South Auckland local body politicians - former Otara-Papatoetoe Local Board member Tunumafono Ava Fa'amoe and Manukau ward councillor Alf Filipaina - who say too many people are drowning in accidents involving small craft.

Mr Filipaina, who is also a Counties-Manukau police Pacific liaison officer, was called to Mangere Bridge in May last year when So'saia Paasi and his 7-year-old son, Tio, drowned when a dinghy capsized. Three other children were rescued from the cold current.

Watersafe Auckland chief executive Sandra Harrop and Auckland Westpac Rescue Helicopter paramedic Karl Taylor, who helped during the Mangere Bridge tragedy, support measures to make the wearing of lifejackets compulsory.

"If everyone was wearing lifejackets that day [at Mangere Bridge], they potentially could still be alive," Mr Taylor said.

Ms Harrop said the "changing face of Auckland was reflected in drowning statistics", showing 19 boating-related drownings in the five years from 2008 to 2012.

But the proposed bylaw is strongly opposed by boaties, including the Auckland Yachting and Boating Association, which represents 17,000 members in the region's yacht clubs.

Association spokesman Richard Brown said it was unreasonable to cover all types of small boats, at all times and in all sea conditions and urged the council not to introduce a "rushed, albeit well-meaning, bylaw which will have little effect".

There are 100,000 boaties in the Auckland region.

Hibiscus Bays Boating Club spokesman Mike Cahill said despite a number of highlighted drownings in Auckland, the city had one of the lowest per capita rates of boating-related drownings.

The bylaw, he said, would not reduce the number of drownings, just increase the number of boaties breaking the law while actually boating safely and responsibly.

The club's submission said a more effective and efficient way of reaching the target group of new immigrants about safety issues would be through a boat ramp campaign.

Boats could be checked for safety equipment, overloading, compliance and navigation bylaw knowledge.

The club has criticised the compulsory wearing of lifejackets in boats of 6m or less, saying the council's case is not backed up with proof.

Of the five drownings in 2012, four were in boats under 4.9m made of lightweight aluminum, the club's submission said, adding it would accept the rule applying to boats under 4.8m.

Other councils around the country have already introduced stricter bylaws, including Auckland's two neighbouring councils, the Northland and Waikato Regional Councils.

In Northland and Waikato, lifejackets must be worn on non-motorised vehicles under 6m when under way, although in Northland the skipper can give permission for them not to be worn.

The Auckland bylaw would be overseen by the harbourmaster, who patrols the region's harbours and coast.

- NZ Herald

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