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Wise up to water safety this Christmas

Title: Wise up to water safety this Christmas

Think safety and skills before you use your 'water toys' this Christmas - that's the plea from the Police National Dive Squad after a spate of drownings this summer.

"Boating, kayaking, swimming, diving and other water related activities are part of the New Zealand lifestyle but it's imperative that people respect the water, and be more safety aware before they hit the sea, lakes or rivers," says Senior Sergeant Bruce Adams, head of the Police National Dive Squad.

"Time spent on land inspecting equipment, learning how to operate your gear, knowing how to read weather and water conditions, and wearing lifejackets will help save your life and those of your family and friends," Senior Sergeant Adams says.

"We want people to have fun but we don't want them to become drowning victims."

The Dive Squad has recovered the bodies of nine drowning victims since August. Many of these people were not wearing life jackets. Water Safety New Zealand figures show 94 people have drowned this year. Ninety eight people drowned during 2008.

"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."

Police say it's often a series of events or poor decision making that can lead to marine or diver drowning callouts.

Part of the Police Dive Squad's role is testing equipment that has been recovered in diver deaths. They've conducted 52 investigations over the last eleven years. Factors contributing to diver deaths have included:

• Using up all available air supply
• Exceeding safe ascent rates, dive times and/or insufficient time between dives
• Poorly maintained equipment, or using gear which has been incorrectly set up or poorly fitted
• Carrying excessive buoyancy weight or using gear not specifically designed for the purpose
• Other poor diving choices - diving alone; after consuming drugs/alcohol; when you're in poor health; or without formal training or exceeding diving capability.
• Failure to monitor weather and water conditions.
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.

"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
• remember the new mandatory requirement for boats being used in dive trips
to fly the Alpha dive flag. This must be 600mm square and visible from 200m.
• 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, no matter how experience you are.
• 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.

Further safety advice can be found at www.watersafety.org.nz ; www.nzunderwater.org.nz ; or www.divenewzealand.com


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