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Long serving harbour wardens say Bay people are more safety conscious

Tuesday, 9 July 2013 2:00 p.m.

Harbour wardens Frank and Pat Bullen believe people in the Bay have become a lot more aware of their responsibilities towards safety on the water over the last few years.

Frank became a harbour warden 38 years ago and his wife Pat joined him as the regions first female harbour warden soon after. The couple are a regular sight down at the Sulphur Point boat ramp, volunteering their time to support Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s Harbour Master - Western Bay of Plenty Jennifer Roberts.

Frank has always been involved in boating and his earlier memories of the water involve building canoes from corrugated iron to paddle about in. Frank was originally a harbour warden for the Tauranga Harbour Board before the responsibility shifted to the Regional Council.

For Frank and Pat, volunteering is all about giving something back to the community. “We are trying to educate people and make them aware of the safety risks so we can minimise the danger out on the water.”

“We’ve seen many people come and go during our time as wardens, and can happily say we think there has been a significant increase in the level of awareness around water safety, especially in the last five years or so.”

For the Bullens the interaction with the public is generally pretty positive. “We can share our interest in boating with others and they respond well to that. We also get approached by a lot of people when we have our ‘harbour wardens in attendance’ flag out, who are keen to learn from us.”

Bay of Plenty Regional Council Harbour Wardens meet a few times a year to discuss what has been working well for them and flag any issues that crop up. They also receive training on how to engage with the public and refreshers on the navigational safety rules.

The Bullens say they’ve seen some big changes in their time promoting water safety. “There are a lot more families out on the water now,” said Pat. “You used to just see men going out to catch some fish to feed their family, but it’s about a lot more than that now. More people have access to boats and more often than not it is families we see going out. It makes it all the more important to ensure everyone out on the water knows the rules.”

“We’ve also found that being positive and praising the good behaviour we see is just as important as reprimanding the bad behaviour,” said Pat. “People are really respectful of the fact that we are there to ensure their safety and help them, when we explain that to them.”

Frank said the highlight of his job as a warden is “seeing people out there enjoying the water but also having an awareness of their safety. It’s nice to see people happy, but they need to be sensible too.”

Pat’s highlights are similar; for her it’s seeing people come home safely from a day out.

Frank was planning on retiring this year, but has been encouraged by Harbour Master Jennifer to stay on in his warden role for a while longer. “I’ve decided not to drop anchor just yet,” he said. “However I really want to encourage new volunteers to come forward. Not only is this role about giving something back, it’s about making a real difference to the level of awareness and water safety in the Bay.”

There are over 70 volunteer harbour and lake wardens in the Bay of Plenty. Wardens are members of the public who give up their own personal time to help keep the waters safe for all users. They are essentially the valued eyes and ears of the Harbour Masters. If you’d like to get involved, call us on 0800 884 880.

Frank and Pat Bullen