Barry always has one eye on the water
Monday, 14 January 2013 9:30 a.m.
Volunteer maritime warden Barry Benton is pretty much on duty 24/7.
He lives on the waterfront at Maungatapu and even if he's not officially on duty for the Bay of Plenty Regional Council he's got one eye on the water. If he sees a problem or situation arise, he'll head out to intervene.
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.
They're 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.
Mr Benton says he often comes across people with new jet skis who do not know how to operate them properly or don't know the rules. Sometimes he believes people simply say they don't know the rules because they've been "busted".
Speeding near the shore and other water users is the most common breach of the rules when it comes to jet skis. Within 200 m of shore or 50 m of other water users, jet skis must keep to a 5 knot speed limit, just like boats.
"A lot of jet ski users who we catch speeding are just hooning around."
Mr Benton has been a volunteer in the Bay of Plenty for more than 30 years for the Port of Tauranga and now the Regional Council, keeping an eye on the area between Maungatapu and Omokoroa. He also helps out at Lake Rotoiti near Rotorua where he and his family holiday.
In that time he's seen a huge increase in the number of jet skis on Bay of Plenty waterways.
"They're more affordable now and very economical to operate. They're also fast and manoeuvrable and people like that but that makes them potentially dangerous. It's like a motorbike - if you don't have the skills to ride it properly, you're going to put yourself and others at risk," he says.
Anyone out on the water who disobeys the rules is putting others at risk and preventing that is Mr Benton's main motivation.
"When my family and I are out on the water I want to feel safe. For me, being a warden is all about making the waterways safer for everybody. We're coming into the busiest time and we don't want anything bad happening."
A retired motor mechanic who ran his own business, Mr Benton has "seen it all" during his time as a warden.
"I have seen accidents and picked up bodies and that sort of thing makes you very aware that doing whatever you do on the water safely is the most important thing. We go out on the water to have a good time, not to end up in hospital or the morgue."
Mr Benton says in his experience, accidents on the water generally come down to either stupidity, people not knowing what to do or people simply disobeying the rules.
Bay of Plenty Regional Council Harbourmaster - Western Bay of Plenty, Jennifer Roberts says with such a huge influx of people on Bay of Plenty beaches every summer, bad behaviour puts people at risk.
"Jet skis must obey the same rules as other boats and anyone who breaches these rules can be fined or even prosecuted.
"Our maritime team will be out in force all summer spreading the safety first message and encouraging all jet skiers and boaties to wear life jackets, not just stow them on board," she says.
"We want everyone to have fun but safety must come first."
This summer's Bay of Plenty Regional Council jet ski safety campaign has the support of Tauranga-based professional surfer Matt Hewitt and Olympic kayaker Luuka Jones, who hails from the Western Bay of Plenty and participates in surf lifesaving in summer.
The whanau of Rotorua teenager Bishop Thompson, who was killed as a result of a jet ski accident on Lake Okareka in January 2011, are also supportive and will be involved in the campaign.