Most of the eight deaths on Bay of Plenty waters last year could have been prevented if people had been wearing lifejackets, boating authorities say.

In figures released to Bay of Plenty Times Weekend, 26 people were caught not wearing or not carrying lifejackets on their boats, kayaks or jetskis over the festive season.

From December 14, 2017, to January 14, 2018, a total of 106 people were caught breaking boating bylaws in Tauranga Harbour. Of this, 44 were speeding within a 5-knot zone and another 12 were caught with a non-registered jetski.

But it was the lack of lifejackets which concerned Bay of Plenty harbourmaster Peter Buell the most.


Read more: Avid fisherman collapses, dies in water as wife watches from shore
Lake users urged to be prepared and know their limits

Local bylaws state lifejackets must be worn by anyone onboard a vessel less than 6m long unless a person older than 15 is in charge.

"The number of people ignoring this rule is too high," Buell said.

"This is especially concerning when you look at the disproportionate number of boating-related deaths in the Bay for Plenty and the fact that most, if not all, of the eight boating-related deaths here last year might have been prevented if lifejackets had been worn."

Nationally, a total of 20 people died in boating-related deaths last year. In the Bay of Plenty, most were in and around the Tauranga Harbour.

Harbourmaster boats patrolled the harbour over the festive season and while most people wore lifejackets, those who did not had a 'she'll be right' attitude, Buell said.

"Even kilometres from the shore they think they can easily swim to safety," Buell said.

Other concerns were the number of boats or kayakers "playing chicken" with large ships entering, and leaving the harbour and too many skippers operating vessels with "no idea of the rules on the water".

Tauranga boatie Gene Hollands agreed, saying he would like to see some training for people before they hit the water.

"In Australia, to drive a boat you have to have a licence, but here you can go out and buy a speedboat and with no training whatsoever you go out on the water. People think that if they know the road rules, they know the boating rules, but it's different."

On the water, New Zealand adheres to international maritime rules which include passing oncoming vessels on the right.

"I agree with lifejackets, yes, but just because you're wearing a lifejacket it doesn't necessarily mean you're safe if someone doesn't know the rules," Hollands said.

Hollands said there needed to be flexibility with rules around lifejackets to allow for common sense, "but unfortunately there are some people who don't have much common sense".

Maritime New Zealand research showed more than three-quarters of boaties said now that they wear their lifejackets all or most of the time.

Director Keith Manch said lifejackets were the number one piece of safety equipment on the water.

"It is too late when you are in the water to try to find a lifejacket and put it on."