Bleat !

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No, make that rant !
Umm, no. Make that a “public service announcement”, since I did say that I wouldn’t rant in this blog.

Okay. For those of you who don’t know – my business is Marine Safety. For those non-NZers, or those away from home, we have had yet another tragic loss of life at sea. The NZ Herald has many articles on this latest event, but the first paragraph of this one is the key for me.

For the past three years John and I have been paying good money to display our products at boat shows around New Zealand. These products include lifejackets and liferafts. I could do you a good sales pitch for why you should buy our products, but that isn’t the point I want to make here.

In the first year we attended boat shows we turned up to all of them. By the end of the long and weary-making first one we discovered some very disturbing facts about the NZ boating public. These “quirks” that we discovered have since reappeared at all of the subsequent shows and have been rehashed in many variations. Here are the core issues:

  1. They know NOTHING about their safety gear !
  2. They THINK they know EVERYTHING about their safety gear !
  3. They don’t think they will ever need to use it (“It won’t happen to me; my boat is unsinkable, etc.”) !
  4. They had no idea what they were buying when they bought it, but it must be good because they bought it and the salesman was friendly and told them it was perfect for all forms of boating !
  5. They think ALL products give them the same result !
  6. They would rather spend that huge amount of money for a real lifejacket for their kids on some new fishing kit for themselves ! (Sarcasm is all mine)

So. You can tell that these little foibles really tick me off. Those poor folk on this most recent vessel were apparently not wearing any lifesaving gear, despite the rough conditions. One of the most common reasons given to us for not wearing lifejackets on board is the discomfort. One of the things we are constantly telling people is that in an emergency the ONLY lifejacket that is any good is the one you are wearing ! So you need to spend maybe NZ$50 to NZ$100 more on a lifejacket that you can do this with, so what ?! What is your life actually worth to you?
Here’s that paragraph again:

” Two big waves struck so suddenly and violently that no one caught in the Foveaux Strait trawler tragedy had a chance to react.”

Apparently Kiwis are just not getting the idea. Accidents and emergencies are not patient, wait for you to get yourself organised, events. They are often nasty, violent and unnecessarily tragic. And they certainly don’t wait for you to “catch up” with the situation.

Please, please, please.

If you own a boat, know someone who does, get them to invest in good safety gear – not the cheap and nasty stuff that they won’t use or wear ALL of the time. The ONLY time you want to use these things is when your life depends on it. That’s not the time when you can take your $20 Warehouse foam jackets back and get a refund ! Don’t skimp – good quality equipment, taken care of, will last you nearly your entire life on the water. And will possibly save your life on the water one day.

Don’t buy from the “quick-sale” merchant. If they are offering you a cheap deal you do want to be asking yourself why. There are very few industries where “you get what you pay for”, and this is one of them. Read up, research, ask awkward questions of the person selling the product. If they don’t know an answer, or can’t get you an answer, then don’t buy from them. They don’t know enough for you to give your life into their hands. Unfortunately in this country (NZ) there are some very big names with questionable ethics, so don’t always think that ‘big name’ equals ‘your best interests at heart’. There is a fair chance that the best interest for them is their bottom line.

Buy from someone who wants to teach you everything they know about their equipment, from using it to how to care for it. If they send you away to try other people’s products like we do, it means they are serious about you finding the absolutely right product for you to wear. That means you will have probably found someone who actually gives a damn about your life and not only about their bottom line.

Be proactive. Be cautious. Ask questions. Don’t hold desperately to “it won’t happen to me”. Don’t fall for slick sales pitches. Buy for your use, need and comfort, not for the “boat show special” savings. And don’t give away your power to the sales person. You are the only person who knows what you do on the water.


So. In the end, I ranted. 😦


  1. Good points Lynn; it’s all too easy not to invest in good quality safety equipment (I gather the same thing happens with car seats, etc.) Recently we didn’t want to spend a lot of money on good quality sleeping bags, and froze because of it (at least we recognized our folly and abandoned our tramp).

    My sister-in-law lost 3 relatives in the sinking you’re referring to. As always there is uninformed speculation about what did and didn’t happen, and as observers removed from the situation is is difficult to judge the “seriousness” of conditions at the time of the incident. Even the most safety-conscious of people can get caught out, although your point about wearing the equipment “in anticipation” is well made. Protect yourself from the outset of risk. After all, we all fasten seat belts before driving off don’t we? We wear shin guards, bicycle helmets, sun block, condoms… (maybe not at the same time). Safety at sea should be no different, but I guess the core issue is that people fail to perceive boating as a high-risk activity. Why is this?

    Some time ago we were in Sicily, over-crowding a small fishing boat with no life-jackets, about which I was unhappy (I complained to the organizer but was told “This is Italy!”) One of us was disabled with a prosthetic hip and would have struggled had we capsized. We had difficulty persuading the captain to return us to the jetty, but we recognized the risk and did something about it.

    Would you get into a car with an intoxicated driver? Of course not. Would you board a small boat traveling through open waters without being provided with a life jacket to wear? No!


  2. I’m so very sorry that your sister-in-law lost family.
    It’s a terrible tragedy that no one should have to suffer.

    We try not to “preach” to people, but it can be very hard not to when you are the recipient of so many near-miss stories from so many people. As you say, normally safety conscious folk can be caught out too.

    Many of the people we speak to at the boat shows are nice, normal, caring folk. They have kids and grandkids. They love to spend time on the water. What we find is that many don’t see or appear to want to acknowledge the potential risks. We have speculated on this for three years now. It seems to come out of an odd, and not always acknowledged sense of fatalism. “If it’s my turn to go…” kind of thing.

    Your comment about the seatbelts in cars is a very good analogy. I’m old enough to remember when it wasn’t compulsory and we didn’t wear them. Then came the campaign to change the perception of what should be normal behaviour. John and I have debated what could be done to reduce or at least improve the survival chances of many boaties, and the one thing we always come back to is education. That’s what we have spent the last three years doing at boat shows. If we get a sale – that’s great – but if we don’t at least we have tried our best to inform and educate people on what their options are, and what “normal” on-water behaviour could and maybe should be.
    I’m glad you turned back on an overcrowded boat with no lifejackets. We try to encourage people to think about medical conditions as part of their purchase decision. A gentleman came to us at one show looking for something for his son who had epilepsy. His needs require a different range of choices, but it is often another area that people don’t consider.

    Again – it’s knowledge and education. Unfortunately what you don’t know can still hurt you. Good equipment is not a guarantee, even if you are prepared and using it. It is simply a case of giving yourself every possible advantage and opportunity should Mother Nature decide that she is going to make herself felt.

    Anyway, please accept my condolences on behalf of your sister-in-law and her family.


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