NEWS FEATURE - This is your Life
New lifejacket laws that came into effect in NSW last November are well supported, explains DAVID LOCKWOOD
Matthew Hayden, fellow cricketers Andrew Symonds and Trent Butler are among the lucky ones. For they have a story to tell. Out on a fishing trip, their boat ran aground, capsized and promptly sank off North Stradbroke Island. None were wearing a lifejacket but the trio made it to shore after swimming for more than an hour, battling currents and crashing waves and, eventually, shock and exhaustion.
"We were right in the impact position on the bar and we were just stranded. A wave came over and turned us around, another wave came over the back and we were out swimming," recounts Hayden, the memory reflected on his ashen face, the same face subsequently employed by the National Marine Safety Committee (NMSC) for its lifejacket safety campaign.
After much research on the subject of lifejackets, NSW Maritime now believes lifejacket reforms could reduce boating fatalities by up to a third out of the average 14.4 recreational boating deaths in the state each year. If wider experiences set the trend, boating is about to become safer right along the eastern seaboard.
In January 2001, Tasmania introduced compulsory wearing of lifejackets on powerboats under 6m that are underway. Fatalities subsequently fell from an average 3.5 per year over the 15 preceding years to an average 1.4 per year in the nine years since. A genuine cultural shift towards safety occurred.
Thereafter, in December 2005, Victoria responded to its 53 boating-related deaths over a four-year period by introducing the compulsory wearing of lifejackets on powerboats up to 4.8m in length when underway. This also applied to open areas (cockpits and flybridges included) of boats between 4.8m and 12m in length at times of ‘heightened risk’, as well as for children under-10 in an open area of a vessel that is underway.
And in Queensland, children under-12 must wear lifejackets in an open boat less than 4.8m in length that is underway. But up till now, it’s been a free-for-all for budding boaters in NSW. Kids have just roamed the decks with abandon. Now that the laws have changed, we expect lifejackets sales — and hopefully designs — to forthwith improve and boom.
As well as saving lives, the new safety regulations potentially save money. Based on NMSC research, the average cost per boating fatality is $1.5 million. But two other things underpin the new lifejackets laws in NSW: the concept of heightened risk; and the statistical record of avoidable drowning events.
According to national boating fatality studies from 1992 to 1998 and then 1999 to 2004, there were 574 fatalities of which more than a third or 213 occurred in NSW. Tellingly, only 10 per cent of these boaters wore a lifejacket and small vessels (less than 6m in length) were involved in 74 per cent of fatalities.
Cue new regulations in NSW. From November 1, lifejackets must be worn at all times by children less than 12 in a vessel smaller than 4.8m in length and when in an open area of a vessel less than 8m that is underway. Lifejackets must also be warn by all boaters in a vessel less than 4.8m during times of heightened risk, such as at night, on open (ocean) waters, on alpine waters, when boating alone, and on tenders more than 400m from shore.
But it’s not just the occupants of trailerboats who will have to change their ways. The new lifejacket laws place greater responsibility on the skipper. Where there are heightened-risk situations, the skipper can demand the crew and passengers don lifejackets. Examples of heightened risk situations include deteriorating weather, rough seas, bad visibility and nightfall, if a passenger can’t swim, or when a boat is broken down.
The laws governing kayaking and canoeing have also been strengthened. It’s now mandatory to wear a lifejacket when paddling more than 100m from an accessible shore in sheltered waters, and at all times in ocean waters. Given the rise and rise of kayaking — every big boat and cruising yacht has one strapped to its bow — the changes are probably not before time.
You also need to realise that not all lifejackets are the same. There are three types: the PFD 1 for offshore work, the PFD 2 for watersports, and the PFD 3 for paddling. You can use the PFD 1, 2 or 3 in enclosed waters unless you are on alpine lakes, where the Type 3 isn’t permitted.
Offshore, it’s PFD 1 only. Take a tip and buy the inflatable yokes in PFD 1 rating. These aren’t bulky, allow freedom of movement, let you cast a line, and kick back. Sailors also go for auto-inflation types. The wet-water jackets from Australian company Stormy with an inbuilt inflatable PFD are brilliant for cold climes.
Of course, few things in life are without risk and it’s in the name of reducing risk that new lifejackets laws that come into effect in NSW this month. There will be a 12-month advisory period while boaters get used to them, but you should get up to speed now before it’s too late.
LIFEJACKET LAWS ELSEWHERE
YOU MUST WEAR A PDF
All occupants of open vessels less than 4.8m while navigating coastal bars;
All children under 12 in an
vessel that is underway and less than 4.8m in length; All occupants of a personal watercraft (PWC); and, When being towed.
All occupants in an open area of any recreational motorboat or motor-propelled tender that is under 6m and underway; Children under 12 of any recreational motorboat or tender of any length while underway; and, All occupants of a PWC.
All occupants of power-driven vessels up to 4.8m when underway and in an open area of the vessel; At times of ‘heightened risk’ (e.g. crossing ocean bars; when operating alone or at night) in vessels between 4.8m and 12m; All children under 10 when in an open area of a vessel that is underway; and, All occupants of off-the-beach sailing vessels, PWCs, canoes, kayaks, rowboats, pedal boats, fun boats, kiteboards, sailboards, and recreational tenders
In a vessel that can only carry the operator, and all occupants of a PWC, sailboard, kiteboard, canoe, kayak or other similar small human-powered vessels (other than a rowboat); A surfboard, surf ski or similar in inland waters; A mono-hulled sailing dinghy or a similar small multi-hulled sailing vessel (being a dinghy or vessel that is not more than 6m in length);
A tender being used in conjunction with another vessel and is 1500m or more from the shore.
All occupants of jetskis, kayaks, and sailboards
All occupants of kayaks in sheltered waters
In WA and the NT, there is no requirement for boaters to wear lifejackets, however, all boats must carry them for each person onboard.
Images: There is a 12-month advisory period for NSW boaters to get used to the new lifejacket laws, with ongoing checks and advice from NSW Maritime; NSW
lifejacket requirement panel.
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