Don wants a safe summer in Eastern Bay
Friday, 4 January 2013 8:00 a.m.
Don Herdman has been spreading the word about water safety for 25 years and reckons wives and mothers are the best people to target to ensure water users know the rules.
The 83-year-old former Whakatane mayor is one of a group of wardens who patrol the Ohiwa Harbour area for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, enforcing rules and ensuring people are in the correct designated areas.
"When we talk to the people in charge of boats and jet skis we also give information to their families and the wives are usually the best at making sure everyone in the family is aware of the rules and sticks to them," he says. "Everybody needs to know the rules."
In the Ohiwa Harbour area where Mr Herdman patrols there are designated areas for different water activities - jet skiing, water skiing and jet skis towing skiers, swimming, boating and others like sailing, windsurfing and kayaking. Mr Herdman credits this for keeping the harbour area relatively problem-free. Retiring from public life in 1995 after 12 years on council, his last term as mayor and two before that as deputy mayor, he was on the Whakatane District Council when it established the designated areas,.
Mr Herdman lives at Ohope, overlooking the harbour area which he patrols on foot, spreading the water safety message among locals and visitors.
This summer the regional council is focused on improving the behaviour of jet ski users on Bay of Plenty waterways. As the number of jet skis has increased in recent years, so have the number of accidents, incidents and near misses across the region. Most jet ski incidents in the Bay of Plenty involve males aged about 17 to 30.
"Sometimes jet skiers take off too fast and we have to remind them they can't go faster than 5 knots within 200m of shore or 50m of other vessels or people in the water," says Mr Herdman.
"And if several jet skis are going out together we will issue a strong reminder of the rules and the fact they could be liable to a fine or prosecution if they break them.
"We don't have too many problems and I think that's because of the designated areas. Sometimes people go where they shouldn't but generally most are really good and some who we've gotten to know after years of patrolling help to pass on the message to others. It works really well."
Mr Herdman says just as jet ski users sometimes need to be reminded of the rules, so do boaties and swimmers and parents need to keep a close eye on where their children are in the water to ensure they don't encroach on ski areas.
Over the years Mr Herdman has seen an increase in the number of people wearing life jackets when boating or jet skiing and he says that's a real positive.
"It gets pretty busy where I patrol and if everyone is mindful of the rules and of each other, everyone can enjoy their fun."
Eastern Bay of Plenty Harbourmaster Brian Spake says so far this summer water users have been "pretty well behaved" and he wants to see that continue.
He and his team take a preventive approach, speaking to people before they take to the water ensuring they know the rules and emphasising safety.
There are about 85,000 jet ski and powerboat landings in the Eastern Bay of Plenty every year. There is usually an influx of jet skis during the three to four weeks from Boxing Day and Mr Spake and his team will be speaking to everyone they see who has one.
Jet skis are as powerful and as fast as a car but under current laws anyone 15 and over can be in charge of a jet ski, no licence required.
"We don't generally have many problems in the Eastern Bay - the messages seem to be getting through to many people and we hope this summer will be no different. We don't want anyone putting themselves or others at risk."
This summer's regional jet ski safety campaign has the support of Bay of Plenty-based professional surfer Matt Hewitt and Olympic kayaker Luuka Jones and the whanau of teenager Bishop Thompson, who was killed as a result of a jet ski accident on Lake Okareka, Rotorua, in January 2011.