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Volunteers keeping boaties safe on the harbour

Wednesday, 4 March 2015 10:00 a.m.

Two of Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s eastern Bay volunteer harbour wardens have put in some hard yards over a total of more than 60 years – but this will be their last summer on the water.

For Don Herdman, 30 years volunteering as a harbour warden hasn’t been a day too long.

He’s finally decided that, at 85, this year will be his last as a warden, now that he’s moved from living on the harbour into town.

It’s been 30 years of service to the community in one capacity or another for Don. He first got involved in the subcommittee developing a recreation plan for Ōhiwa Harbour, and has always been in and on the water since he was a youngster, catching fish, boating and swimming.

He and his family had a bach and then a house on the harbour when he was dairy farming in the area. He’s also had 12 years on the Whakatāne District Council, as a councillor, deputy Mayor and then Mayor.

“The work is very enjoyable, helping out at the boat ramp, watching people coming and going and helping them to understand the rules and regulations, providing education about water safety. We always note who has gone out in boats, how many trailers in the carpark, that sort of thing.”

Over the years things have changed from just boats and swimmers on the water, as wind surfers, jet skis and biscuits were added to the water toys. And he says having a recreation plan for using the harbour has made all the difference.

“Keeping all the activities separated has worked really well, because it keeps everyone safe and enjoying the water.”

His biggest problem is ‘people who won’t do as they are told’, especially those who have driven a distance to get to the water and think they have the right to do what they want when they get there. 

But he says education about water safety has improved, and people out on the water now seem more aware of the need for safety.

“Especially lifejackets – that’s getting much better, and people are wearing them more now.”

But resigning as a warden doesn’t mean Don is hanging up his hat completely. He’s still on many committees and boards and will be out there in a boat on the harbour with family whenever he gets the chance.

For the long-serving Ted Gee, it’s hard to remember when and why he got involved as a warden.

Now in his 85th year, he said he’s always looked down onto the harbour from his farm on the peninsular heading towards Ōpōtiki.

“As a young fella we had a boat and were always out boating, fishing and picnicking so it just came naturally.”

He said most people respond well to an approach from one of the six wardens in the eastern Bay, as long as they’re spoken to ‘nicely’.

“Over the years I’ve never had any trouble from anyone. It doesn’t work when you go in laying down the law and telling them what to do. People are now more sensible on the water too,” he says.

The arrival of jet skis has increased friction on the water though.

“I think it’s the age group that jet skis appeal to. They often seem to be yuppies who think they’re a law unto themselves,” he says. Most people are sensible and keen to do the right thing.

“There’s so much more publicity now about safety and rules so people are very aware when they head out. Sometimes we get the odd idiot, but the boaties themselves often sort them out.”

For Ted, the ‘freedom years’ beckon. He’s got a big garden to tend in a lovely spot, and a caravan that he hopes to travel away in for a couple of months at a time.

“For the past 30-odd years I’ve been tied up over the summers, so it will be nice to get away now and then.” 

Ted Gee,Eddie Grogan, Peter Buell and Don Herdman