North harbour wardens keep boaties safe on the water
Tuesday, 17 February 2015 10:00 a.m.
Messing about in boats comes naturally to a bunch of retirees and semi-retired men at the northern end of Tauranga Harbour.
Seven of them, ranging in age from 50s to 70s, are volunteer harbour wardens for Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s Harbour Master. They spend their days patrolling the northern harbour around the Tanners Point/Katikati/Waihī Beach area ensuring everyone – boaties, jet skiers, kayakers, wind surfers and any other kind of water craft users – sticks to the rules and gets home safe.
It’s not a matter of laying down the law. They do most of their work by talking to people, or just being visible in their clearly-marked Harbour Master’s boat. Just the sight of it cruising nearby is enough to make most boaties slow down, don their life jackets and behave better on the water.
“We basically act as the Harbour Master’s right hand, and our role is mainly educational, observing activities on the water and ensuring boaties know what’s expected of them,” says 70-plus Noel Haszard.
He’s spent 19 years as a volunteer, turning out in all weathers to keep others safe on the water.
“In the last four years the number of craft has grown immensely, and we couldn’t do what we do without the equipment we now have. It used to be just a foot patrol, which wasn’t much use when the problems are out on the water.
“Now we have a small boat and jet ski which give us much more visibility.”
Noel is ex-Coastguard, and the other six wardens at the north end are all keen boaties themselves. They come from a wide variety of backgrounds – plumber, electrical and refrigeration, retired farmer, oil exploration, mining – before they put their hands up for the job. They all love being out and about in boats.
They put in the hours too. Since late December they have completed more than 200 hours of patrols. That’s 70 to 95 hours each. The wardens re-train every year in boat safety, boat handling, and are all qualified boat masters.
Some of the behaviour they see out on the water is alarming, particularly the growing number of jet skiers who go to fast and too close to other water users.
“Complacency is the biggest problem, ignoring the rules, attitude and lack of knowledge of ebb tides particularly. Then there’s the bow riders on vessels travelling at speed, especially children,” Noel says.
So far this summer they’ve rescued 10 boats which misjudged the tide and found themselves in difficulty. Boat owners from other countries are also an issue. They often have little knowledge of their own recently-bought boat, the sea and its dangers.
And all the wardens have heard every excuse in the book for bad behaviour on the water.
“You name it, we’ve heard it. The good thing is that this year we’ve had about 100 percent compliance with carrying lifejackets. Now we just have to get people to wear them.”
The job is not just patrolling the water; the wardens also get involved in community activities, like fishing competitions, the Nugget Multisport and bathtub races. They’d like to see more people put their hand up to join them as volunteers, which would ensure their on-duty rotation left them more time to enjoy the water themselves.
Anyone interested in joining them just needs to contact the Harbour Master’s office for assessment and the training required.
“So far this summer there’s been 17 deaths on the water nationally, but none in our waters. Our aim is to have no fatalities on the harbour, and so far, so good.”