New boat owners adorned in threadbare lifejackets cast their lines along with their hopes of a hefty catch from the depths of a Northland marine reserve or next to giant tankers unloading crude oils at Marsden Point oil refinery.
This persona of a recreational boatie enjoying Northland's coast as they holiday far from home is, in fact, far more realistic than people may think.
And that is why the Northland Regional Council harbourmasters and Maritime NZ have teamed up to take their No Excuses compliance campaign on the water in a bid to stem the tide of preventable recreational boating deaths.
Last year Northland recorded seven recreational boating fatalities and so far the record is clear according to data up to December 18 this year.
Together Northland Regional Council's deputy harbour master Laurence Walkinshaw, NRC maritime officer Daniel Branley, and Maritime NZ's Paul Buisson approach vessels on five random days until March 31 to check the compliance with the boating safety code and local bylaws.
Armed with new lifejackets for adults and kids, dry bags, waterproof cellphone holders, information packs, and more - they are ready to fill any safety or knowledge gap present.
"The general behaviour is getting better but at the moment there is this massive influx of boat ownership, which you don't require any competency testing for," Walkinshaw said.
"Who knows the effect it is going to have but our preventative actions will help to keep boaties safe."
The campaign - in its second year - is even more timely as Covid restrictions are believed to be behind a huge boom in the purchase of recreational boats, of which there are no legal requirements to hold a licence to operate one in New Zealand.
Combine this with the cohort of holidaymakers visiting Northland - evident as most regional campgrounds are booked out until the end of January - who may have limited knowledge about local sea perils, and you have trouble waiting in the wings.
While, admittedly, it's not every recreational boatie - not by a long shot - it is still too many as proved by a morning interacting with water users alongside Walkinshaw, Branley, and Buisson.
In the space of an hour and a half, the trio – all keen boaties themselves - had spoken to people on 10 boats, between Whangārei Heads and Marsden Point, to quiz their knowledge of the boating safety code and local bylaws including lifejacket wearing and safe speed.
"The quintessential Kiwi attitude of 'she'll be right' is the hardest to challenge," Walkinshaw said. "People are well intentioned but there is a genuine lack of awareness or knowledge of the rules."
All, bar one, were from Auckland. Most had two means of communication devices safely stored in waterproof bags, lifejacket - although borderline and ill-fitted jackets were replaced by Buisson who provided new ones and people who should be wearing them but weren't were reminded of the rules - and they could mostly recite the speed limits near land.
"Lifejackets are the key contributors for the consequences of the fatalities we've had," Buisson said.
Where they struggled were with accurate weather reports, and local knowledge about marine reserves and exclusion zones.
Walkinshaw, Branley, and Buisson moved three kayakers fishing next to the Marsden Point oil refinery jetty, alongside four boats - all occupants had no idea it was an exclusion zone for safety and security reasons.
Walkinshaw said water users had to be 100m from the Northport Wharf and 150m from the oil refinery jetty.
"The propellers on the tugs spin 360 degrees and the tugs themselves weigh 50 to 60 tonnes. They can head out at any point to intercept an incoming ship. You'd be burley just like that and the tug won't even feel a thing."
Of the 336 vessels interacted with last year in Northland, only 55 per cent of boaties had two ways to call for help. On the flip side, 93 per cent always carried enough lifejackets for everyone on board.
Avoid snags at sea with these safety tips for boaties:
1. Take a registered distress beacon and waterproof ways to call for help. Register your beacon at beacons.org.nz - it provides RCCNZ with crucial details that help them assist you faster. VHF radios are a great option. A cellphone in a sealed bag is better than nothing. Don't own a beacon? Rent one. See the list of rental outlets on the Beacons website.
2. Tell someone where you're going. Keep Coastguard NZ updated. Every time you leave your home port, contact the Coastguard Communications Centre either on the Coastguard marine VHF channel for your area or on your cellphone via *500. You can also file a trip report via the Coastguard app.
3. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Make sure your boat's good to go and you have enough lifejackets on board. For Coastguard's full level 2 checklist, including how-to videos, go to boatiesbestmate.nz. Know the weather - look at the marine forecasts. If it's looking dicey - stay home or change your plans.