Education is better than legislation when it comes to encouraging boaties to wear lifejackets, says a local Coastguard chief.
Graeme Hull's comments come after a television news report that the Government backed off making lifejacket wearing compulsory on all boats under 6m just a week before it was to be signed off by Cabinet.
Documents supplied to 3 News under the Official Information Act revealed officials were pushing for compulsory lifejackets in 2010. The rule change would have made it compulsory for lifejackets to be worn on all boats under 6m, where most drownings occur.
But a week before it was to go before Cabinet, then Transport Minister Steven Joyce backed away from the move.
Mr Hull, Coastguard's eastern region manager, said that was not necessarily a bad thing.
"When you look around the world, legislation in itself doesn't reduce drowning statistic," Mr Hull told the Bay of Plenty Times.
"We'd prefer to focus on boating education and the importance of wearing lifejackets. When it comes to search and rescue, one person not wearing a lifejacket is one person too many."
Labour Transport spokesman Phil Twyford said that when looking at the analysis officials had done, a law for small boat users would have saved seven to 10 lives every year by now.
"Steven Joyce obviously decided he felt it would [create] a nanny state by telling people what to do but I find that bizarre," he said. "It's no different to telling people to put seatbelts on when they get in their car."
But Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges told the Bay of Plenty Times safety progress was being made. The analysis that Mr Twyford referred to was a historical study conducted between 2001 and 2006, he said.
Towards the end of it, it became law in New Zealand that boaties must have lifejackets on board, and they must wear them in dangerous sea conditions. Since then the usage has shot up and continues to go up, Mr Bridges said.
He said he was unconvinced that evidence supported the call to make wearing of lifejackets compulsory.
"I can't say without further study that even if I was to make it compulsory to wear lifejackets all the time, that usage rates would go up. I don't want to overreact and over-regulate without evidence."
The Government has provided $1.93 million towards boating safety education in the past two years, and Tauranga Volunteer Coastguard chairman Chris Phillips said it was now more popular for boaties to wear lifejackets because of heightened awareness.
Maritime NZ boat ramp surveys this year showed up to 99 per cent of boaties were carrying lifejackets.
Tauranga Yacht and Boat Club manager Christine Headey said lifejackets and buoyancy vests were relatively inexpensive so there was "no excuse" not to wear them.
Mrs Headey said club members saw people out in "tinnies" with no lifejackets - a scenario which was essentially "an accident waiting to happen".
At the club, it was compulsory for all 300-plus members to wear lifejackets or buoyancy vests, unless in a keel boat.
- Lifejackets - a legal requirement.
- You must carry a correctly sized, serviceable lifejacket (also known as a personal flotation device or PFD) for each person on board a pleasure boat in New Zealand. This is a legal requirement and this rule applies to all boats, including tenders and larger craft.
- It is the skipper's legal responsibility to ensure that lifejackets are worn in situations of heightened risk, such as when crossing a bar, in rough water, during an emergency, and by non-swimmers.
- Most drownings in boating accidents involve craft under 6m. People on board boats under 6m should wear a lifejacket, unless the skipper has assessed this is not necessary, due to the low risk at the time. - Maritime New Zealand