A report in Saturday's West Australian newspaper says that the new WA Labor Government is considering making lifejackets compulsory on all recreational vessels. I have a message for the WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti: Congratulations, you have been in the job five minutes and you're about to make a complete goose of yourself, upset a very large number of constituents and leave the government open to some very costly law suits.
While I am a firm believer that anyone who is not a strong swimmer SHOULD wear a lifejacket, because lifejackets CAN save lives, I also know that a number of people have died BECAUSE they were wearing a lifejacket. Usually it was because they were trapped under an upturned boat and couldn't swim out. But I have also seen footage of a man in heavy surf off the NSW south coast after his boat sank. His two companions, who could swim and weren't wearing lifejackets, were able to swim ashore easily. This man, however, was in big trouble, trapped on his back with waves washing into his mouth, and it was only the quick actions of some teenagers on the shore that saved his life.
Cruising guru Alan Lucas tells a story of a similar incident when he heard cries for help from an overturned tinnie. When he went to their assistance, the only one of the three men in trouble was the one wearing a lifejacket.
If our politicians and public servants want to make something compulsory, how about swimming lessons? That would save lives in backyard pools too. You know the ones? Where they made pool fences compulsory, only to find that more kids have drowned than before fences were mandatory, because parents stopped watching them. The lifejacket/pool fence/helmet will save them. The governemt says so.
The report in the West says that 14 people have drowned in WA waters since July last year. Eight were not wearing lifejackets – which means that six were. Yet they still drowned.
The bottom line is that you can't legislate against stupidity. You can't legislate against genuine accidents. And you shouldn't legislate for the lowest common denominator.
Forcing someone to wear a lifejacket when they are clipped on to their yacht and can't fall overboard is ludicrous. So is demanding that a person rowing out to their boat in flat calm conditions should encumber themselves with one.
I wonder how many of the 14 deaths were from yachts. Very few, if any, would be my guess. So why should sailors be forced to wear something that is unnecessary simply because a few idiots fall off jet skis or get drunk while fishing and overturn their boats?
The article also quotes the Minister as saying that other states require the mandatory wearing of lifejackets. Yes, other states also have laws that are essentially draconian and unnecessary but none, as far as I know, require that lifejackets must be worn on all vessels at all times.
As with so much other “nanny state” safety legislation, this sort of thing penalises the 99.99% of recreational boaters because 0.01% do the wrong thing. Individual responsibility should still be the benchmark. And conditions should be taken into account. How does some public servant, locked in an office on St George's Terrace, know what the conditions will be when a couple are rowing their tender back to their boat in Exmouth or Esperance? Has that public servant ever sailed offshore? Do they know what jacklines are? No, they take a simplistic and very uneducated view of the issue.
I hope that the BIA and all of WA's sailors, fishermen and other water craft users will fight this stupid nonsense tooth and nail. Because it will result in a huge drop in the number of people participating in healthy, outdoor pursuits. When Australia joined New Zealand to become the only countries in the world that demand compulsory wearing of helmets on bicycles, the industry estimated that it suffered a 40% drop in people riding bikes. And the percentage of deaths in cycling accidents in Australia and the UK is about the same per head of population. In the UK, cycle helmets are optional.
If someone can prove to me that if everyone wore a lifejacket, no-one would ever die, I might consider the imposition worth it. When I know, for a fact, that some people have died BECAUSE they were wearing a lifejacket, I much prefer to assess the conditions and make up my own mind.
“You're the skipper, you're responsible.”
– Roger McMillan, editor.
(Note these views are my personal ones and don't necessarily reflect the views of my employers.)
Read the full story in The West here. And if you live in WA, please make a submission against this nonsense.
There is also a survey being conducted on safety equipment as part of this review. It's badly-designed but we need to get the message to public servants that the situation is not broken and doesn't need fixing.
Finally, Terry Baker, former Commodore of Fremantle Sailing Club, shared this piece of common sense with me: