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Harbourmaster Marty Black's comments follow the rescue of two men who got caught out in rapids on the Kawarau River on an inflatable mattress on Sunday night.
Mr Black refused to send someone out on a jet ski when the call came in about 9.30pm, saying it was too dangerous.
A helicopter and search and rescue crew were deployed instead, rescuing the pair about 11pm.
Mr Black said the two men, one from Queenstown and one from Dunedin, put not only themselves but their rescuers at risk.
"It's an area just below Dog Leg Rapids. You don't want to be playing around there in the dark.''
Mr Black said he was "dead against'' the public having to foot the cost of rescue operations when those needing rescue were at fault.
"I'm not saying we shouldn't go and rescue them, but they need to take responsibility for their actions.''
He said the cost of a helicopter for a search and rescue mission was about $2000 an hour.
His comments were backed by Otago Rescue Helicopter Trust chief pilot Graeme Gale.
"If it's your stupidity that put you in that situation, if you were doing something that was ridiculous, you should have to pay,'' he said.
Coastguard New Zealand chief executive Patrick Holmes shared their frustration, but said Coastguard had no plans to charge for rescues.
"If it's a search and rescue operation where lives are at risk, we will do our best to rescue them, and there won't be a charge,'' he said.
Mr Holmes said Coastguard did charge in situations where lives were not at risk, for example, if someone ran out of petrol while boating on a lake and had to be helped to shore.
It cost $400 every time a Coastguard boat was launched, he said.
Police also said there were no plans to charge.
A spokeswoman said police had a "statutory obligation to provide search and rescue (SAR) services as part of their normal business, and are funded to do so''.
"While there is normally some monetary cost associated with a SAR operation, this is factored into and funded from within normal police operating budgets, so there is never any financial 'charge' imposed on anyone who is in distress and needs our help.''
Sunday night's rescue came just hours after an Indian tourist suffered a medical event on a KJet boat on Lake Wakatipu about 5pm, and later died.