Boat­ies’ booze ban call

Al­co­hol and wa­ter don’t mix, warn wor­ried mar­itime au­thor­i­ties. Re­port by Alice An­geloni.

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - Jonathan Milne, ed­i­tor

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.’’

ABIGAIL DOUGHERTY / STUFF

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.

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