Rock fishers are getting the message about wearing lifejackets but some self-conscious anglers are hiding them under clothing.
The Auckland Regional Council has been running joint programmes with WaterSafe Auckland and Surf Lifesaving Northern Region to encourage fishers to wear lifejackets when rock-fishing off Auckland's notoriously dangerous west coast.
The move was prompted by five fatalities at the end of 2005 when fishers were washed off rocks and drowned.
Stu Leighton, a council park ranger leading the project, said that in the 2006 summer and again this year safety advisers were employed to promote multilingual safety messages, including through brochures at fishing spots at Muriwai, Whatipu and Piha.
Key messages included to always wear a lifejacket, check weather forecasts and tide times, take a cellphone and wear appropriate clothing and footwear.
Mr Leighton said preliminary results from a survey undertaken to test the success of the safety promotion showed an increase from 4 per cent of people who always wore a lifejacket in 2006 to 15 per cent in 2007.
There was also an increase in people who sometimes wore a lifejacket, from 23 per cent in 2006 to 32 per cent in 2007.
But Mr Leighton said there were reports from the safety advisers that although more people were wearing lifejackets they were doing so underneath clothing.
That implied the fishers were self-conscious about wearing them.
Mr Leighton said it would take time to get people comfortable about openly using lifejackets but the council would keep pushing the safety message for them to become part of the normal rock-fishing kit.
He said the waters off the west coast of Auckland were considered some of the most dangerous in the world. There had been 11 fatalities between 1999 and 2005.
"It is a grumpy bit of ocean out there."
Mr Leighton said fishers could be lulled into a false sense of security when the waves seemed small but rogue waves could still catch them out.
In New South Wales fishers were recommended to sit and watch the wave breaks from a safe vantage point for 30 minutes before they started fishing.
WaterSafe Auckland drowning prevention manager Theresa Stanley said there needed to be a change in behaviour regarding wearing lifejackets while fishing off rocks.
Ms Stanley said she could not see much point in trying to make lifejackets compulsory for rock fishers, as there were not the resources to enforce it. Auckland fisher Alex Chu said he now always wore a lifejacket following the drowning of a friend swept from Flat Rock at Muriwai in 2005.
They had been fishing on a very high tide when water rushed in up to their chests.
Mr Chu had managed to hold on to the rock but Wen Hai Wu was swept out to sea.