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Safety message for our waterways

With warmer weather likely to inspire an increase in water activities, various water-adjacent organisations across the country are issuing seasonal safety reminders.

Greater Wellington harbourmaster Grant Nalder said there are four key things to remember if you’re heading out on the water this summer.

“Always check the weather, tell someone where you’re going, carry two forms of communication, and wear your life jacket.”

And when it comes to Wairarapa, it pays to remember the coast is open and exposed, with few sheltered locations, and “with the exception of popular fishing contests, there are also fewer boats out on the water to lend a hand when needed”, Nalder said.

More general problems that Wairarapa water users may encounter include running out of fuel, steering issues, mechanical breakdowns, or missing divers.

Nalder advised that people should seek help early if they run into any issues out on the water.

“Do not wait for the weather to improve or risk going into darkness. And remember to always wear a lifejacket – once you’re in the water it’s too late,” he said.

Greater Wellington and Maritime NZ recently collaborated on the installation of signage at the most frequently used Wairarapa launching areas to ensure everyone’s aware of the region’s speed restrictions on waterways.

The Ruamāhanga River has varying speed limits “in different parts of the catchment, and in some places they change at different times of the year”, Nalder noted, as well as a range of users who undertake activities on the river, including jet boaters, kayakers, swimmers, duck shooters, fishers, and trampers.

Maritime Rules state that a five-knot speed limit “applies all year round when within 50m of a person, raft or vessel; or 200m of the shore on most waterways in New Zealand” – although there are some exceptions along some sections of Wairarapa rivers.

For example, you can travel at any speed safe for the conditions at all times of the year on the Waiōhine River and Ruamāhanga River upstream from Te Ore Ore bridge, but there are no exceptions to travelling at five knots along the Ruamāhanga River between Te Whiti Rd bridge and Te Ore Ore Rd bridge.

Between October 1 and May 14, the speed limit of five knots applies to the section of Ruamāhanga River between the Gladstone Rd bridge and Te Whiti Rd bridge, and the Waingawa River between SH2 and the Ruamāhanga.

The speed limit of 5 knots only applies to the Whareama River from the sea to the upstream edge of the Waimimi Rd bridge, and the Ruamāhanga from Lake Ōnoke to Ruamāhanga-Huangarua River confluence on the week before and the week after the opening day of duck hunting season.

The Ruamāhanga-Huangarua River confluence to Gladstone Rd bridge is restricted to a speed of 5 knot between August 15 and October 31 each year, and in the week before and the week after the opening day of duck shooting season.

In response to a number of preventable drownings, Coastguard and Water Safety New Zealand are asking that Kiwi wear lifejackets while on the water.

Coastguard chief executive Callum Gillespie said too many lives are unnecessarily lost due to people not wearing lifejackets.

Recent data from Water Safety New Zealand shows that craft-related incidents accounted for 31 per cent of recreational deaths last year. In 2022, there were 29 drowning fatalities from watercraft, 21 of which were people who weren’t wearing lifejackets.

“A lifejacket has never ruined a day on the water, but not wearing one has destroyed many lives,” Gillespie said.

Drownings are devastating for all involved, including whānau, friends, and also for frontline workers and volunteers, he said.

“We have a simple message for all watercraft users, whatever your waka ‘Just Wear It’.”

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