The move to make lifejackets compulsory for young people, the subject of a private member’s bill from National MP Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, is similar to legislation already enacted in the United States, US Coast Guard Chief of Boating Safety Jeff Hoedt says.
Mr Hoedt is in New Zealand on an MNZ-sponsored visit to speak on water safety initiatives, and said US Federal law, also reflected in most states, made lifejackets compulsory for anyone under 13 years of age.
“Our experience is that when you mandate something as the law, there is a high level of compliance,” he said. “In the United States, we have very high wear rates for people under 13 – that compares with 21–22 percent for the whole population going out on the water.
“When you take the youth figures away from those for the whole population, the wear rates for adults alone drops to under 10 percent in the United States. Our advisory council has recommended making wearing lifejackets compulsory for all water users in vessels of less than 18 feet (6m) and we are now doing some research into that.”
Current MNZ-commissioned Research New Zealand data on boating activity in New Zealand indicates a high rate of carriage of lifejackets (between 88–95 percent, depending on boat type) but lower rates of lifejacket wearing. The wearing rate over all vessel types is 80 percent, but this drops to 56–58 percent for power boats and sail boats.
MNZ Director Keith Manch said while current New Zealand legislation required sufficient lifejackets to be carried for all people on board vessels, making wearing of lifejackets compulsory for young people would change boating behaviour.
“We believe everyone going out on the water should wear lifejackets. While this is particularly important at times of heightened risk, such as when crossing a bar, in rough weather, or for non-swimmers, accidents can happen at any time,” he said. “Making lifejacket wearing compulsory for those under 15 would not only send a strong message to anyone responsible for the safety of young people on the water, but should instil in young people the need to be safe on the water. That is a message we hope they will hold on to as adults.
“The simple message is: lifejackets save lives.”