Safer Boating with Coastguard
Accept your limitations.
Here’s a quick snapshot of the 2017 recreational boatie age profile (source: MNZ Recreational Boating Survey). For sailboats 64 percent were over 55; powerboats (6m or less) 41 percent were over 55, and for dinghies, 46 percent were over 55. It is estimated that between 55 and 60 percent were male.
If you then look at the preventable drowning stats you’ll see that it’s males over the age of 65 who are overly-represented. Water Safety New Zealand research indicates that preventable drowning deaths for the over-65s doubled between 2016 and 2017.
There are many possible explanations for why older males feature more prominently in drowning statistics. One suggestion is that older males grew up in a society where risktaking was normalised and that they continue with this pattern of behaviour throughout their life.
There may be some truth to this – but for over 25 years this category of older males has continued to be over-represented. It’s difficult to suggest which particular decades (1930s, 40s or 50s?) led to this ingrained risk-taking behaviour. If this explanation was to hold true, at some stage we should see a decline in fatalities as that particular cohort ‘dies out’.
Perhaps a more plausible explanation is that as we get more familiar with our environment we fail to recognise the risks – in short we become complacent. It’s the “if-it-hasn’t-happened-tome-yet-it-will-never-happen-to-me” mind-set. We probably all know someone with this attitude. And great effort is expended to drive behavioural change (e.g., don’t-drink-and-drive campaigns and wear-your-lifejacket).
There may be a third explanation which is also an underestimated cause – possibly because it requires us to swallow our pride and admit it – that we’re not as young and agile as we used to be. As we age our muscular strength and endurance diminishes marginally each year, our balance can be affected and we’re more likely to suffer a fall – and if we do our bones are more brittle.
Ironically, as we age it’s more likely we’ll have the income and time to go boating – and there’s no reason we shouldn’t. But just be well-prepared and don’t over-estimate your physical ability.
Here’s a great example of what we’re talking about – with a favourable outcome.
Len and Heather Dillon were out in the Hauraki Gulf on a late autumn afternoon when the unthinkable happened. While Heather was making a cup of tea in the galley, 79-year-old Len tripped and fell into the water. He was tending to his and Heather’s fishing rods which both had fish on them.
He grabbed onto the duckboard which was all that stopped him from being swept away in the strong current. He tried to get out of the water twice but wearing heavy jeans and boots he knew all he would do was probably “activate a crook heart and get myself all stressed.”
The ladder he could have climbed on to seized up and couldn’t be pulled down and the radio was malfunctioning. Luckily Heather was able to call Coastguard on her mobile, with the North Shore unit reaching Len in the nick of time.
In no way are we suggesting and that Len and Heather were foolhardy. Their story, which they have kindly shared – shows how easily the unexpected can happen.
Perhaps it’s time to give up the ego and put steps in place to counter the inevitable effects of aging. You can’t beat the physiological decline but you can enjoy quality boating by being well-prepared and ensuring you follow the basic safely guidelines when heading out.
Tell someone where you’re going, wear your lifejacket, have MOB plans in place, and ensure you can call the rescue authorities by having at least two forms of communication. BNZ
...as we age it’s more likely we’ll have the income and time to go boating – and there’s no reason we shouldn’t.