• It is now compulsory in NSW to get your inflatable lifejacket checked regularly.
    It is now compulsory in NSW to get your inflatable lifejacket checked regularly.

Now I understand. The reason for the NSW government's obsession with lifejackets that is. And of course our safety.

There are 1.8 million people who go boating each year in NSW according to an article in the August Afloat and if Minister Duncan Gay gets his way they will all be wearing lifejackets in the very near future.

Splitting the difference in price between inflatable and non inflatable, a close average price is about $75. That equates to $135 million in NSW alone.  A very nice little earner for someone. Then there is the annual servicing which on the cheaper inflatables is hardly worth the bother so you just buy a new one to stay compliant and the money train just keeps rolling along.

But consider this. According to David Lockwood, the darling of the BIA, the Boating Incidents in NSW report claims that for the 10 years to June 30 last year, there was an average 16.7 fatalities a year from boating accidents in the state. Of these deaths, 61.7% were drownings. But 93.2% of victims weren't wearing a lifejacket.

In real terms, of the 16.7 deaths from drowning the 61.7% who drowned equates to 10.3 persons and the 93.2% of those who were not wearing lifejackets equates to approximately nine drownings annually that are possibly attributable to not wearing a lifejacket, and that is confirmed by Minister Gay.

Lockwood also states that  "Tough new lifejacket laws were introduced in November 2010 to help prevent boating deaths. But from that point until June 30 last year, there were 52 deaths. Only five of the victims were wearing lifejackets."  Notice he says deaths not drownings.  Think about it.  Nine out of 1,800,000 people who go boating each year. If they were road fatality figures we would be world leaders in road safety.

While every death is a tragedy, these numbers do not warrant legislation that requires anyone who gets in a boat to have to go to a shop and spend $135 million to satisfy an industry and top up the State Government's coffers.

At  an international lifejacket forum, hosted by Transport for NSW in May, there was discussion about increasing a lifejacket's functionality: fitting pockets, rescue-attachment points, emergency position-indicating radio beacons, satellite phones, VHF marine radio and personal-locator beacons.  Great, more expense.  Which I might not mind as long as there is room for my laptop and a couple of books and a Mars Bar or two in case it takes a while to effect a rescue.

Lockwood says, "It is estimated the statistical cost of each fatality is more than $4 million. The state government has a financial incentive to effect change, too."  And then some.  Nine deaths a year cost them an alleged $36 million so we have to pay $135 million. Like I said, a nice deal for the Government and their mates, but completely out of all proportion for the rest of us who by some miracle have managed to avoid drowning  en masse.

Nine drownings out of 1.8 million boaters a year ?

Between 1st July 2000 and 31st October 2011, there were 321 electrocution deaths reported to Australian coroners as identified and closed on the NCIS database. In Sydney alone there were 56 shooting deaths or injuries in 2012

To better put this into proportion, there are 5200 people dying in NSW each year from smoking compared to nine who may have drowned by not wearing a life jacket. And I don't see legistlation forthcoming to enforce total non smoking anytime soon. So let's face it, you're being got at. You are an easy, unorganised target. Smoking is very big business and organised and very, very profitable for government.

And finally I am not anti-lifejacket, but if you are going to force anyone who comes within eye contact of the water to wear a lifejacket then apply the rule to all including surfers, beachgoers, surf lifesavers, snorkelers, people who swim alone in their home swimming pool ...

Oh, and don't quote me on this but the rumour around the bear pit in Macquarie street is that compulsory shark repellent is being considered to keep us safe in 2014. 

- Don Hartley

Editor's Note: When Australia and New Zealand became the only countries in the world to force all cyclists to wear helmets, the cycling industry contracted 40% according to industry sources. Can the already-struggling marine industry afford a 40% drop in participation? And surely we go out on the water to escape from petty bureaucracy... Let's fight these idiotic moves to treat mature adults like children. 

If you're a poor swimmer or the conditions dictate, wear a lifejaket. But make up your own mind. In many circumstances, a strong swimmer is actually put in more danger by wearing a lifejacket because he or she is not able to dive beneath danger or quickly escape from a surfline.

To quote the state government's own slogan: You're the skipper, you're responsible. Let's keep it that way.

- Roger McMillan

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