People heading out on the water in Northland over summer are being urged to take extra care, keep a proper watch and make sure they fly dive flags if they have divers in the water.
He says regional council maritime staff agree with Northland-based police Search and Rescue members that there are a number of simple steps boaties can take to keep themselves and their loved ones safe on the water.
These include ensuring boats are well maintained and serviced, especially if they have been unused over the winter.
“Avoiding alcohol, wearing lifejackets, checking the weather forecast, letting someone know where you are going and ensuring you have proper means of communications on board in case something goes wrong all make for safer boating.”
Mr Surendran says at a meeting earlier this month, Northland police told regional council staff they had responded to 320 calls for assistance in incidents involving almost 600 people during the 2011/12 financial year, with summer the busiest time for local police Search and Rescue staff.
Over the same year-long period, 14 people had drowned in Northland; twice the road toll. At the time of the meeting earlier this month, 16 people had lost their lives on the roads so far this year, compared to five drownings.
Mr Surendran says of particular concern to the regional council, is incorrect or non-use of the dive flags by boaties and divers.
In recent months a number of skippers had been forced to take evasive action to avoid divers because flags were nowhere to be seen or dive boats were not near their divers.
Mr Surendran says it’s vital for the safety of all parties that it’s clearly signalled when divers are in the water as divers risk serious injury or even death if hit by other boats or their propellers, especially if the vessels are travelling at speed.
He says under Northland Regional Council bylaws, a dive flag must be displayed so it’s clearly visible from another vessel 200 metres away.
“The blue and white flag needs to be at least 60cm by 60cm in size and divers have a responsibility to ensure it is flying before they enter the water.”
The dive boat must also be within 200 metres of the divers at all times and be prepared to help quickly if needed. “Divers too have an equal role to play in ensuring they stay within 200 metres of their boat.”
Mr Surendran says other vessels should keep a good lookout for divers and not exceed five knots within 200 metres of a vessel flying a dive flag.
Similarly, it’s important to keep a proper watch and preferably not use automatic steering within harbour limits. He was aware of at least one case this year where a fishing vessel had narrowly missed a stationary boat, while making way with no-one apparently keeping a proper lookout.
“Automatic steering may only be used if a helmsman is standing-by next to the helm. For all vessels, do not leave the helm position, or allow attention to be diverted, while the vessel is moving.”
Mr Surendran says in recent months several buoys and beacons had also been damaged in the busy Whangarei Harbour after being struck by vessels. Again, a proper watch should avoid many such incidents.
“However, if a collision does occur with an aid to navigation (with or without apparent damage), the incident should be reported to the harbourmaster, and/or harbour radio or the closest coastguard or local radio station; it’s an offence not to report.”
An initial call can be made to the regional council’s 24/7 hotline 0800 504 639 and a written report must also be completed within 48 hours.
Mr Surendran says failure to report such incidents may place other vessels in danger, particularly in the Whangarei and Bay of Islands Harbours, where the safety of large ships could be at risk if navigation aids are damaged.
Similarly, he says outriggers, stabilisers, davits and other equipment over the side should also preferably be retracted when in a harbour to prevent damage to navigation aids. “If not, sufficient clear distance must be maintained from navigational aids and other vessels. Outriggers must always be stowed when a vessel is alongside.”
Mr Surendran says information and tips on how to stay safe on the water in Northland is available from the regional council’s website via: www.nrc.govt.nz/safeboating