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If Santa brings you or your family new or pre-loved water toys this Christmas, then make sure you know when, how and where to safely use them both on and under the water.
The Police National Dive Squad and Wellington's Police Maritime Unit say people must inspect and know how to operate boats, dive gear, and other marine equipment before taking to the water. Being aware of safety procedures is also vital in minimising the risk for activities to go wrong.
"Messing about on boats, diving, swimming or enjoying other water sport are all part of a Kiwi summer," says Senior Sergeant Bruce Adams, head of the Police National Dive Squad. "We want people to have fun but we don't want them to become drowning victims."
Unfamiliarity with equipment, mixed with limited knowledge of water safety skills, a lack of planning and not choosing the right gear for the job is a recipe for disaster, Senior Sergeant Adams says.
"Even the best skilled and prepared diver, boatie, or kayaker can be caught out by unexpected breakages or changes in sea conditions. The situation can be a lot worse for those who aren't prepared or don't appreciate how unforgiving the sea can be."
Senior Sergeant John Bryant, Wellington Police Maritime Unit, says two recent Wellington cases highlight the need for divers to understand that the waving of arms and blowing of whistles should only be used when people are in trouble.
"These signals are traditionally signs of distress. They shouldn't be used to attract the attention of friends ashore simply to say gidday. They could be interpreted as a real call for help and lead to an unnecessary search and rescue activation.
"This can divert rescuers' attention and our capability to respond to other situations where people genuinely need help."
Inflatable 'toy' dinghies and other flotation devices are popular Christmas presents. Police urge parents and caregivers to closely supervise children when using this play equipment as these dinghies, rafts or boards are very light and can easily flip or be swept out in the surf.
There's also a new mandatory requirement for boats being used in diving trips to fly the Alpha dive flag. This must be 600mm square.
Provisional Water Safety New Zealand statistics show that between November 2007 and April 2008, 12 people drowned as a result of diving (snorkel, scuba or free-driving) misadventures. Three of those were in the Greater Wellington region.
Part of the Police Dive Squad's role is testing equipment that has been recovered in diver deaths. They've conducted 46 investigations over the last ten years.
Using up available air supply, exceeding safe dive times, incorrect equipment set up, poorly maintained gear, diving alone or in unsafe waters, no formal dive training and failure to monitor weather and water conditions have been some of the contributing factors.
Police say it's often a series of events or poor decision making that can lead to marine or diver drowning callouts.
"Our message to all water sports enthusiasts this summer is to think safety before you put your boat or toes in the water. Be prepared and keep an eye on the weather and water conditions. If it's not looking good or you're not feeling right then put the gear away and have a break."
Some safety tips to follow are:
• get your dive gear inspected by a dive store to identify and fix faults
• complete a proper dive course before going out
• regulators and buoyancy compensator devices need to be checked annually
• have a medical check up - especially if your health has changed and you've been away from diving for a while
• dive with a buddy and stay together
• do pre check dives with your buddy
• gradually build up to deeper and more difficult dives
• take turns following each other and carrying the catch bag
• check the sea worthiness of your boat and safety equipment before taking it out
• have lifejackets and ensure everyone on your boat wears one
• avoid the temptation to overload your boat if you are heading out for a sail, fishing trip or cruise
• know how to use your marine radio and how to call for help if you need it
• all boat skippers need to be aware of other water users around them - swimmers and divers
• jet skiers and ski boats should keep an eye out for swimmers, rowers,!
sail boarders and kayakers
• alcohol and water activity is not a safe mix
• supervise youngsters when they're swimming or fishing
• check for hidden objects before jumping or diving in
• get in the water with children - and if make sure they wear fins when they boogie boarding
• monitor the weather and water
• have fun
• call for help at the first sign of trouble.
Matt Claridge, General Manager of Water Safety New Zealand, says drowning is the third highest cause of accidental death in New Zealand. "The ability to swim and supervision are two important interventions for a safe and enjoyable summer. Swim for Life."
Further safety advice can be found at: