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NZ children take to the water with safe boating messages

NZ children take to the water with safe boating messages

New Zealand’s leading boating educator says it’s more important than ever for children and their families to learn about safety on the water.

The comments from Coastguard Boating Education (CBE) came as tragedy struck on the first day of summer, when two people apparently fell out of a kayak and drowned on Lake Tarawera on Sunday before rescuers could reach them. The six-year-old girl was seen wearing an adult-sized lifejacket, which is believed to have fallen off her in the water, and her father had no lifejacket.

CBE General Manager Neil Murray says it’s possible that the deaths may have been avoided, had they both been wearing lifejackets that were the right size. “It’s a message that really needs to be heard if we’re going to avoid more tragedies of this kind on the water. By now, wearing a lifejacket really should be standard behaviour for all boaties, particularly aboard smaller boats.”

He says it’s a legal requirement for enough lifejackets of the right type and size to be carried on any boat, and for them to be worn at any time of heightened risk, but in reality they should be worn at all times, especially by children and non-swimmers. In addition, many regional council bylaws require lifejackets to be worn at all times aboard boats under six metres.

Neil says CBE’s Safe Boating initiative is reaching children by coming ashore and working with aquatic centres to get survival messages across. “We’re aiming to turn primary and intermediate school children into safety ambassadors, in the hope that teaching them how to be safe on the water will save their and other people’s lives for decades to come.”

For its Safe Boating programme, CBE partners with aquatic centres to train swim instructors, and the centres then invite schools to participate in the programme. Children are taught about skipper responsibility – what safety equipment they should expect to see on a boat – and survival skills in case they end up in the water.

Over the past year, more than 20,000 certificates have been awarded to children who’ve completed the programme – with the programme growing rapidly. CBE is progressively rolling out the programme across the country, with South Island aquatic centres now being signed up. Eighteen North Island aquatic centres are already delivering the programme.

Neil Murray says the programme is getting core safe boating messages and water survival skills across to children by bringing schools and swim centres on board. “We’re gearing up swim instructors with professional boating safety training and equipment so we can reach thousands of children through their local swimming pool. It doesn’t matter whether the children are swimmers or non-swimmers – the programme benefits them all,” says Neil.

“We’re also sowing the seeds for children to keep building their skills and awareness,” he says. “After completing the programme as primary or intermediate students, children can build on this basic knowledge at college by completing other boating courses such as Day Skipper, which earn unit standard credits and contribute to NCEA.” At present, 84 high schools offer CBE courses and unit standards.

But Neil says the potential benefits go far beyond the children. “First we safety-proof the kids, and then they’re geared up to pass on the key safety and survival messages to their parents and others on the water. We’re setting them up to be safety ambassadors.”

The programme involves a poolside lesson about skipper responsibility and the safety equipment that should be carried on any boat, such as lifejackets and waterproof ways to call for help. Another session, in the water, teaches the right way to wear lifejackets, in-water survival positions and what to do in the event of capsize.

Each aquatic centre’s safety gear is audited to identify what equipment may be needed, with CBE sourcing community funding and sponsorship to supply extra gear if required. Neil says the full cost of the equipment needed to run the programme is $7,000 per pool, which will last for three to four years.
CBE won the Sealord Water Safety New Zealand Prevention Award for the Safe Boating programme. The award was presented at the first International Water Safety and Aquatic Education conference, held in Queenstown in October.

Coastguard Boating Education is a member of the National Pleasure Boat Safety Forum, which includes Water Safety New Zealand, Surf Lifesaving New Zealand, ACC, and New Zealand Search and Rescue. Led by Maritime New Zealand, the Forum is running a national summer safety campaign for boaties, focusing on lifejackets and risk factors.


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