Editor's columnRobin Copeland 

Lifejackets are life savers

Lifejackets save lives. Yes, but how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died? And, how many times can a man turn his head pretending he just doesn’t see?

With no end in sight – 10 people have been killed on NSW waterways since July – authorities have launched a do-or-die water safety campaign targeting boaters at greatest risk. They are invariably reckless young males who are in small boats and make poor choices, sometimes under the influence of alcohol and at night.

The latest figures from the Office of Boating Safety and Maritime Affairs highlight the need for attitudes about lifejackets to change. In the 12 months to June this year, 19 people died on NSW waterways – a 73 per cent increase on the previous year. Eleven of these deaths were due to drowning … and not one was wearing a lifejacket.

According to Boating Incidents in NSW, the statistical report for 10-year period ending on June 30, 2012, 167 boating deaths and 575 serious injuries arose from 3,754 incidents on state waterways.

A new marine safety campaign, supported by Yachting NSW, the NSW Police Force Marine Area Command, the Boating Industry Association, Marine Rescue NSW and a host of other organisations with an interest in water safety, is trying to drive the lifejacket message home.

While fatal incident rates for recreational vessels have declined by approximately 44% over the 20 years since 1992–93 (when NSW Maritime began gathering comprehensive records) there has been a recent spike in boat-related drownings, despite tough new lifejacket laws.

According to statistics, men are less likely than women to wear lifejackets and are 3½ times more likely to drown than women.

“It’s disturbing that 93 per cent of people who died on NSW waterways weren’t wearing a lifejacket, especially given the most common types of recreational vessel fatal incidents involved vessels capsizing and people falling overboard,” Minister for Roads and Ports, Duncan Gay said.

“Before you set foot on the deck of a boat, go fishing from a tinnie or some rocks, or get on another vessel like a jet-ski or a windsurfer, we want you to put on a lifejacket.”
It seems the resistance to wearing a lifejacket ain’t blowin’ in the wind. It’s a result of deliberate risk-taking, complacency and over-confidence, ignorance of maritime laws, and the misplaced belief that the lifejackets are expensive and cumbersome. The latest self-inflating and water-activated lifejackets aren’t bulky and won’t restrict movement.

It’s no good just having lifejackets stored away on your boat, where they are useless in an emergency. Make sure they are in good condition and the right type for your activity.

There’s lots of helpful advice at lifejacketwearit.com.au.

Robin Copeland