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Prep, Check, and Know before you leave for the lake

Wednesday, December 7, 2022   Posted in: Signatory Notice Board By: Administrator With tags: recreation, safety, environment, water

Environment Canterbury media release: 6th December 2022

The Waitaha region is home to over 400 lakes, many of which are popular with campers, travellers, and boaties, such as Lake Ruataniwha, Lake Takapō/Tekapo, and Lake Aviemore.

This year, our Safer Boating campaign wants you to remember three key things. Whatever your level of experience, before heading out on the water make sure you've:

  1. prepped your vessel;
  2. checked your gear; and
  3. know the local rules.

Three biggest risk factors

Current research shows that the three risk factors most likely to cause death and injury on the water are:

  • the failure to wear lifejackets;
  • an inability to communicate when an accident happens; and
  • failure to check forecasts to avoid boating in bad weather and lake conditions.

"Accidents do happen, but rarely if you are well prepared and act responsibly as a skipper," said Gordon Mackay, Deputy Harbourmaster at the Harbourmaster's Office.

Make sure you prep, check, and know before you go.

Prep your vessel

Always wear a lifejacket and take communications when on the water, including when using a standup paddleboard.

Like your car, your vessel (including human-powered ones) needs maintenance and an annual check. Check the hull is sealed, that motors and oars/paddles aren't damaged, the bilge and fuel lines are not blocked or have perished, the electrical equipment and navigational lights are working, and that the outboard, pull cord, kill switch, throttle, and gear shift are working.

Check your gear

Canterbury bylaw states that everyone onboard a vessel under six metres must always wear a lifejacket, even in calm conditions — you can still fall overboard, and it's not always easy to put a lifejacket on once you're in the water!

On larger vessels, you need to make sure you have one suitable, fitted lifejacket for each person onboard. Everybody must wear their lifejacket if there are circumstances of increased risk to the safety of people aboard (for example, crossing a river bar or worsening weather).

"Also check that all people have their lifejackets on properly. Go out with a friend on another boat or let someone know your intentions, and what to do if you fail to check in by a certain time," Gordon said.

Did you know that VHF doesn't work well in inland lake areas such as Ruataniwha, Tekapo, and Aviemore? You will need a different form of emergency communication such as a PLB (personal locator beacon) or other satellite communication devices (such as InReach and SPOT).

Alternatives to VHF radio in lake areas

Ensure you have two forms of communication that work in the area. VHF radio has limited coverage on inland waterways and lakes like the Waitaki Lakes, and in many places is not monitored by authorities. Cellphone reception can be unreliable.

"Consider investing in a PLB (personal locator beacon) as your first choice of communication, as well as a secondary device such as a satellite communication device (like InReach and SPOT), flares, air horns, or torches.

"Make sure someone knows when and where you'll be going, as many lake areas are remote," Gordon said.

Know the local rules

Pay attention to the laws of the water — both Mother Nature's laws and human-made ones. 

If you're in charge of any kind of vessel, it's your responsibility to check the latest rural weather forecast and the local conditions. Conditions can change very quickly on a lake.

Make sure you check the high-country forecast beforehand. If there's a storm looming or the conditions are set to deteriorate while you're on the water, stay on land.

Identify your vessel

In Canterbury, a bylaw states that your boat (including jet skis) needs an identifying number on each side of the hull. The ID must be at least 90 millimetres high and be distinguishable to the naked eye from 50 metres away. It could be printed on a sticker from a sign shop or it could be painted on.

The ID needs to be either the trailer registration number or a VHF callsign, certain boat club ID numbers are also acceptable - enquire with your club to find out more.

An ID number provides are starting point for locating the owners of any washed-up vessels and also allows people to provide identification information when they are reporting concerns with boating behaviour.

Non-powered vessels (measuring six metres or less), paddle craft, and vessels solely powered by oars (like kayaks and canoes) only need a contact name and phone number written somewhere onboard.

"We have officers working the lakes all through the summer, conducting safety checks and ensuring people are acting in a safe manner. If you see our guys at the boat ramp or on the water, come and say hi - they are happy to help you with local knowledge and answer your boating safety questions," Gordon said.