Boaties’ booze ban call
Alcohol and water don’t mix, warn worried maritime authorities. Report by Alice Angeloni.
Pressure is mounting on those last boaties still stubbornly drinking to excess at the helm, as other waterusers demand breath-testing.
Tomorrow Maritime NZ releases its 2018 Recreational Boating Survey, which looked at the habits of thousands of boaties.
Statistics provided to the Sunday Star-Times ahead of its release reveal of the 1300 people who identified themselves as recreational boaters, 67 per cent said they always avoided alcohol before and during boating, 16 per cent avoided alcohol ‘‘most of the time, 7 per cent avoided alcohol some of the time, and 3 per cent – 39 boaties – said they never avoided alcohol.
Maritime NZ says the Maritime Transport Act already prohibits ‘‘dangerous activity involving ships or maritime products’’ and can be used to prosecute intoxicated boat drivers. In May, two Christchurch men were convicted under that act after their boat ran aground. The men refused breath-alcohol tests but were too drunk to give statements, a police officer told the court. Judge Tony Zohrab, who ordered them to pay fines, said the men were ‘‘foolish’’.
Boaties and harbourmasters told the Star-Times the law wasn’t good enough. Harbourmasters and police are powerless because recreational skippers can decline a breath test.
Marlborough harbourmaster Luke Grogan said strong regulations around drink-driving on the road had improved behaviour on the water but it was important authorities had the power to take action. ‘‘In instances where alcohol is a problem – it’s visible on the boat and we know the skipper is intoxicated – it would be really useful to be able to call the police and . . . have the power to take an evidential breath test.’’
A legislation change would discourage people from getting behind boat controls while drunk in the first place, Grogan said.
Acting Associate Transport Minister James Shaw said the Government was not considering breath testing boaties because the Maritime Transport Act already encapsulated drinking and authorities already had ‘‘a wide range of powers’’.
He said alcohol is not ‘‘a major contributing factor’’ when it came to water accidents and there were ‘‘obvious practical challenges’’ around enforcement. ‘‘We need to ensure our resources are focused on the interventions that will make the biggest difference to improve recreational boating safety.’’
Water Safety New Zealand chief executive Jonty Mills said alcohol and its relationship to New Zealand’s boating culture remained an issue.
While Water Safety’s behaviour surveys showed a significant drop in the number of people admitting to consuming alcohol while boating, ‘‘a lot of people’’ still did. ‘‘We need a culture change around boating and alcohol.
Things can change quickly on the water.’’
Paul Rosson, whose brother drowned in an alcohol-related boating incident in 2012 said ‘‘common sense must prevail’’.
Patrick Rosson was on a friend’s boat travelling from Picton to the Marlborough Sounds when he stepped onto the deck to ‘‘take a leak’’ and fell over the side. ‘‘I suppose you’ve always got to be careful, don’t you,’’ Paul Rosson said. ‘‘It was an unfortunate accident, but it was a collection of several things. They’d had a couple of drinks. They were probably – in relation to being in a car – over the the limit, but they were still capable.’’
Transport Accident Investigation Commission chief investigator captain Tim Burfoot said the commission didn’t believe governments and regulators were doing enough to prevent alcohol related boating accidents.
‘‘In our view there should be a zero tolerance to impairment by drugs and alcohol in any of the transport sectors,’’ Burfoot said.
Blenheim skipper Luke Elworthy said in principle it was hard to justify there being one system for the road and another for the water.
‘‘But personally in sensible moderation, it’s a part of boating that I enjoy.’’
But Christchurch skipper Jeremy Kennedy said he wouldn’t go boating if he had been drinking. ‘‘In the old days, definitely. I think things have changed a bit . . . I would be comfortable if they changed the laws.’’
Fisherman Shaun Shearer shows off his catch of the day at Westhaven Marina in Auckland yesterday. New stats show more than two thirds of boaties now avoid a drink with their pastime.