Marlborough joins the NZ debate on compulsory life jackets

The ’compulsory’ life jacket debate
BoatUS Press Room
The Marlborough district on the north east of the south island of New Zealand has joined the current debate about boaters being forced to wear, not just carry, life jackets when boating. As the regulation would apply to all vessels under 6 metres, it would catch the tender dinghies of all sailing boats.

According to Water Safety New Zealand, in the 20 years from January 1993 to December 2012, there were 215 drownings from boats, almost half were related to boats less than 4 metres. Of these, 83% were not wearing a lifejacket and 95% were male.

The Marlborough harbourmaster told the Marlborough Express that he hopes the Government will make the wearing of lifejackets on small boats compulsory, as the summer boating season opens this weekend.

Alex Van Wijngaarden said rules in Marlborough required boaties to carry, but not wear, lifejackets. Changing the Marlborough District Council bylaw that governed this would mean spending a lot of time and money on consultation.

Patrol boats would be out and about in the Marlborough Sounds over the weekend to make sure people had lifejackets on board, Mr Van Wijngaarden said. They would also check speed within 200 metres of shore.

Often patrol crews found the mum and kids on boats wearing life-jackets but not Dad, he said. Yet if dad fell in the sea, other family members might not be strong enough to drag him back on board.

It was common to find jackets which had sat in a cubby-hole for years and were no longer effective, Mr Van Wijngaarden said.

'In boating shops now you can buy slim-fitting jackets for about $90. How much is a life worth?

'People might have been drinking alcohol and think they are 10 foot tall and bulletproof. Then they fall in the water and can't get themselves out,' he said.

Other times sailors taking a dinghy to and from the shore at night had slipped, been knocked unconscious and drowned.

'Or they go over the side in the middle of the night when the ship is moving.

'No-one realises for half and hour and when they try to go back and find them, it's impossible,' he said.

The National Pleasure Boat Safety Forum has written to Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee seeking a law change making it compulsory to wear lifejackets on vessels smaller than 6 metres and Maritime New Zealand supported the rule for anyone under 15.