Call for law on driving boats while drunk

Marty Black
Marty Black
A law to test boating enthusiasts for their level of intoxication on waterways should be made New Zealand-wide, Queenstown Lakes harbourmaster Marty Black says.

Mr Black's comments came yesterday after the jet-boat driven by two Queenstown men, who had been drinking, hit rocks near the Kawarau Falls Bridge at Frankton, on Friday, about 10.45pm.

The harbourmaster was joined by Coastguard Queenstown, police, Frankton and Queenstown volunteer fire brigades, St John Queenstown and a rescue helicopter in a major search and rescue operation when the initial report was there were more than two people in the water in distress.

The pair were found by the coastguard at 11.24pm, about 100m downstream of the bridge. The boat had some damage, but the two men were uninjured.

The men were tested by police on site and Mr Black said one registered 690mcg and the other was also over the legal limit of 400mcg.

The men were warned by police not to drive. However, they were later stopped on Kingston Rd, one of the men behind the wheel and their boat on a trailer behind them.

A 28-year-old man was processed for driving with a breath-alcohol level of 502mcg at 12.15am.

''We can't actually do a lot on this, because it's not only our own bylaws, it's also the Maritime rule part 91, to say you're not to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but there's no routine testing, so therein lies a fairly major problem,'' Mr Black said.

''While there's an instant fine of $500 for driving [a boat] under the influence, there's no test, as such.''

The issue of testing came to the fore when the national Pleasure Boat Safety Forum wrote to the transport minister about five years ago, but nothing happened, he said.

''Boating is the last bastion where you can probably drink till you're drunk and the chances of getting picked up for a misdemeanour, with the exception of Queenstown and a couple of areas, are remote.''

Mr Black said he was aware some groups went boating with ''as much booze as fuel - that's ridiculous''.

''If it's a hot day and you're sitting somewhere, have a beer. No problem at all. But if you're over 400mcg, you've had a few.

''You're not allowed to drive on the road like that, so why should you on the water?

''If you're on the water and something goes wrong, you don't just stop the car, or hit a tree and it stops you. You're in the water and you're dead - simple as that.''