Change lifejacket laws to save lives - Water Safety New Zealand

Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) is calling for the compulsory wearing of lifejackets on recreational water vessels under six metres.

It follows a number of recent boating incidents during attempts to cross bars that have again sparked debate in relation to legislation.

“If you end up in the water without a lifejacket, you are far less likely to survive than had you been wearing one,” says Water Safety New Zealand CEO Jonty Mills.

As most drownings occur from recreational boats under six metres WSNZ believes a law change is required to prevent further unnecessary loss of life.

“As the lead agency for the water safety sector, WSNZ believes it is time for the government and local authorities to take this necessary step in order to help save

lives. Just as the law change around seat belts dramatically reduced deaths on our roads WSNZ believes similar action is required to bring down New Zealand’s

excessive drowning death toll.”

Mills also discussed the difficulties in changing public attitudes towards water safety.  “We also acknowledge there needs to be a culture change in relation to the wearing of lifejackets. You can’t regulate common sense but you can regulate responsibility. I liken this to the compulsory wearing of seat belts back in the 1970’s, where it wasn’t until legislation was enforced that there was a culture change and an emphatic reduction in the road toll,” says Mills.

On average there are around 20 recreational boating fatalities each year in New Zealand. In known cases, 73% were not wearing lifejackets. The data and research associated with this strongly suggests that around two-thirds of these fatalities would most likely have been prevented had the deceased been wearing a lifejacket.

“That’s 14 families each year who may not have to go through an entirely preventable loss of a loved one,” says Mills.

The recent Kaipara Harbour tragedy, which claimed eight lives, is a terrible reminder of the cost of non-compliance according to Mills.  

“The Kaipara Harbour bar crossing incident was a tragic event for eight families, the wider boating community and the country as a whole. We’ve since seen two further incidents where smaller recreational vessels attempting to cross bars at Kawhia and Port Waikato have flipped with eight men ending up in the water.  Thankfully all eight were wearing lifejackets and all survived,” says Mills.

New Zealand has the eighth highest drowning toll (per 100,000) in the OECD.