Further call for life jackets

Maritime New Zealand wants the country to follow the example of the Queenstown Lakes district by making the wearing of life jackets compulsory.

The organisation's support for compulsory wearing of life jackets for people aged under 15 and its encouragement of everyone on the water to wear life jackets at all times came days after more than 300 international water safety advocates exchanged research and best practices in an inaugural conference in Queenstown earlier this month.

The move to make life jackets compulsory for young people, the subject of a private member's Bill from National MP Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, is similar to legislation already enacted in the United States, US Coast Guard chief of boating safety Jeff Hoedt, a conference speaker on a Maritime NZ-sponsored visit, said.

Mr Hoedt said US Federal and most state law made life jackets compulsory for anyone under 13.

''In the United States, we have very high wear rates for people under 13 that compares with 21%-22% for the whole population going out on the water,'' he said.

''When you take the youth figures away from those for the whole population, the wear rates for adults alone drops to under 10% in the United States.

''Our advisory council has recommended making wearing life jackets compulsory for all water users in vessels of less than 6m and we are now doing some research into that.''

Maritime NZ-commissioned Research New Zealand data on boating activity in this country indicates a high rate of carriage of life jackets - between 88% and 95%, depending on boat type - but lower rates of life-jacket wearing.

The wear rate over all vessel types, including kayaks, canoes and jet skis, is 80%, but drops to 56% to 58% for power boats and sail boats.

Maritime NZ director Keith Manch said while current legislation required sufficient life jackets to be carried for all people on board, making their wearing compulsory for young people would change boating behaviour.

''We believe everyone going out on the water should wear life jackets,'' Mr Manch said.

''While this is particularly important at times of heightened risk, such as when crossing a bar, in rough weather, or for non-swimmers, accidents can happen at any time.

''Making life-jacket wearing compulsory for those under 15 would not only send a strong message to anyone responsible for the safety of young people on the water, but should instil in young people the need to be safe on the water.

"That is a message we hope they will hold on to as adults.''

It is compulsory to wear a life jacket in any boat under 6m in the Queenstown Lakes district.

Failure to ensure everyone on a recreational craft less than 6m in length is wearing a life jacket can result in an instant $300 fine.