Safety message lost

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  08 May 2013

Safety message lost

A newspaper snippet once talked about an Icelandic trawler skipper who was so sozzled on schnapps that he crashed into a couple's anchored yacht, causing major damage.

Months later, after a few wines, the same skipper thought he'd sail over to apologise. He rammed them again.

I see how that could be downright annoying, and that we need rules to stop a repetition. But maritime authorities around Australia, under the guise of being guardian angels, are increasingly going overboard in their liberal application of fines.

In NSW, those concerned and kindly folk from Roads and Maritime Services who brought us combined red-light/speed cameras have been at it again in recent months, conducting a so-called safety blitz for water-skiing dangers.

The hit rate was relatively poor, with 104 boaters being fined after 2400 vessel checks, so they're educating us about something most already know. With one PWC rider being slugged $750 for failing to have an observer and not wearing an appropriate life jacket, a cynic would think they were more concerned about raising revenue than awareness.

Come the end of daily savings there was navigation light compliance and there have been countless safety equipment campaigns resulting in more penalties. They even gloated about using YouTube video to fine a charter fishing operator $1500 for negligent navigation after the 13-metre vessel was struck by a wave, causing it to roll violently to one side.

But here's where it gets absurd ... in an incident last year, an overloaded runabout capsized after being swamped by a wave. There were five people aboard – four aged under 17 – and only one life jacket between them. The boat was unregistered and missing a safety label.

The offences of failing to carry sufficient safety equipment and failing to ensure the children were wearing a life jacket -each attracted $1000 fines. For being the master of an unregistered vessel, the skipper was slugged $1500, plus a further $1000 for not displaying a safety label.

The lesser penalties relate to safety equipment, whereas registration and labels have a bearing on the bureaucratic machine but not on lives.

Here's the problem, in my view: when the educator is also the executioner the safety message gets confused. The good cop shouldn't play bad cop, just like the sports coach can't be referee as well.

Roads and Maritime Services, to use the NSW example, has an identity crisis. It should be here to ‘serve' as its name suggests – use the fees from moorings and registrations to build better shore facilities, manage infrastructure, clear hazards from the water.

Leave boat towing to the rescue groups - like Marine Rescue - and leave the policing of regulations to the Water Police. Most people would be ‘fine' with that I reckon ... but drop me a line if you have other ideas.

Mark Rothfield

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