Laws won’t stop drownings but education will
The old debate on lifejackets is raging once again with the proposal to make wearing them mandatory on boats of less than 6m.
We’ve been here many times before and there is strong feeling on both sides of the debate but surely now we must find a solution to a problem that simply won’t go away.
Auckland Council has a proposed bylaw on the table that would require all those on boats of less than 6m to wear lifejackets.
At the moment, the law only requires lifejackets to be aboard but there is no requirement for them to be worn. The question that has to be asked is, would a bylaw be enough to force people who venture on to the water without lifejackets make them change their ways?
The short answer is no. The penalties would probably not be harsh enough to make people stand up and take notice and the logistics and costs in enforcing such a law would make it very tough.
The Auckland bylaw would be enforced by the harbourmaster’s office if it were to come into effect.
I would suggest that this added responsibility is one that staff there could do without.
People still drink and drive and speed on our roads, even with severe penalties for this type of offending, so a slap on the wrist in the form of a fine won’t compel everyone to wear a lifejacket.
On the face of it, making it illegal not to wear your lifejacket isn’t a bad idea but the reality is it won’t stop people from drowning.
The key to fixing any social problem – and this is a social problem – is through education.
You pump as much money into education as possible and slowly but surely you change cultures.
Once something becomes socially unacceptable, then the masses start to change their ways. The common denominator in this debate is that everyone admits we have a problem. The sticking point is how we fight it.
Perhaps the considerable resources that are going into enacting a bylaw should be put into a unified drive to change the mindsets of those who think it’s okay to take their kids on to the sea without a basic safety provision.
The bylaw proposal is a well-meaning one and I don’t want to sound like I am criticizing those involved. None of us want to see another drowning in our waters but bylaw or no bylaw, sadly we will.
The only way we can truly fix this problem is by changing behaviours and the only way we can do that is by educating people about the dangers.
Fourteen people died in recreational boating accidents in New Zealand waters last year, and by the end of September this year a further 11 people had died. Maritime New Zealand says threequarters of those deaths may have been avoided had basic steps – like wearing lifejackets – been taken.
So the obvious course of action is to get all the stakeholders – Maritime New Zealand, Coastguard, the major boating and fishing clubs, community leaders et al – around a table to nut out an action plan that sees education as the focus.
The unified action plan would ensure the message gets to everyone, through our schools, our clubs and into our homes through nationwide campaigns.
There’s already plenty groups and associations trying to get the message of maritime safety out there and doing a great job.
But imagine how loud that message would become if they were all working together and delivering a message as one?
Everyone knows that we must stop these needless, tragic drownings in our waterways. Now is the time to band together and educate the people, not punish them.
A proposal to make the wearing of lifejackets mandatory in boats under 6m has been met with opposition in Auckland. The proposed bylaw is to go out for public comment in early 2014 but it has already drawn criticism from some who say it is another case of the ‘nanny state’.
The bylaw was tabled by two South Auckland politicians - former OtaraPapatoetoe Local Board member Tunumafono Ava Fa’amoe and Manukau ward councillor Alf Filipaina - who said too many people were drowning in accidents involving small craft.
Mr Filipaina, who is also a CountiesManukau police Pacific liaison officer, was called to Mangere Bridge in May last year when So’saia Paasi and his seven-year-old son, Tio, drowned when a dinghy capsized.
Three other children were rescued from the water that day.
Auckland Yachting and Boating Association, which represents around 17,000 members, has urged the council not to introduce a “rushed, albeit well-meaning, bylaw which will have little effect”.
Critics say the bylaw would only increase the number of boaties and fishos breaking the law while actually boating safely and responsibly.
Hibiscus Bays Boating Club has made a submission against the bylaw and said proposed compulsory wearing of lifejackets in boats of 6m did not have proof that it would be effective.
Of the five drownings in 2012, four were in boats under 4.9m made of lightweight aluminium, the club’s submission said, adding it would accept the rule applying to boats under 4.8m.
Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) launched its latest lifejacket campaign earlier this month and is pushing the message that having a lifejacket on board will not save boaties or their mates if things go wrong.
MNZ’s education and communications manager, Pania Shingleton, said too many men don’t realise this simple fact, despite the statistics showing that 90 per cent of boating fatalities are men.
“Being close to your lifejacket is like being close to your bulletproof vest – it’s just not close enough,” said Pania.
“People think if they have an accident, they’ll have time to put their lifejacket on, but boating tragedies tell a different story.”
Maritime New Zealand’s new advertising campaign harks back to the glory days of 1980s cop shows to show that, like bulletproof vests, lifejackets don’t save people’s lives unless they’re worn.
The campaign draws on MNZ’s latest research, which shows that men aged 40-plus are the least likely to zip up on the water.