21 Dec 2018

Water safety groups launch campaign to prevent drownings

6:19 pm on 21 December 2018

Muriwai's flat rock looks like the perfect fishing spot: it's a wide, natural jetty that allows the fisher to cast into deep water and hook a hungry snapper or kahawai.

A lifesaver on Muriwai's flat rock.

A lifesaver on Muriwai's flat rock. Photo: RNZ / Maxine Jacobs

But you only have to wait a few minutes to see why it has such a bad reputation; a set of larger waves comes charging in, exploding against the rock face and sweeping across the surface with awesome power.

Kay Dah Ukay and Mu Thu Pa weren't wearing life jackets when they were swept off flat rock in Muriwai and drowned in July.

The couple are among 82 people who have died from drowning so far in 2018, and water safety groups today launched an initiative to try and prevent further tragedies.

Surf Life Saving Northern Region, Drowning Prevention Auckland, and the council chose the spot to launch a campaign to try and hammer home some key safety messages for intrepid rock fishers, such as wearing lifejackets at all times.

Rock fishing safety advisor Samuel Turbott said the all-too-common scenario involved people heading for a day's fishing and not expecting to get into the water.

"So they're going to be sitting out there on the rocks and they're not prepared to go in; they're not wearing a lifejacket they're not wearing the ideal clothes and they're not prepared for what could possibly happen - all it could take is for one wave to wash them in."

He urged fishers to never turn their back on the surf.

A mock rescue at Muriwai.

A mock rescue at Muriwai. Photo: RNZ / Maxine Jacobs

"I talked to quite an experienced fisherman out at Piha. He said how he was just packing up for the day, grabbed his rod, turned around to walk up the rocks and a rogue wave came through and washed off the rocks, knocked his head against the rocks, scraped him all up."

Harry Aoanga, of Drowning Prevention Auckland, said latest surveys showed fewer people were wearing life jackets than they used to - although increased reporting may account for some of this.

"Nineteen, 18 per cent of people going on the rocks are wearing lifejackets so there's been a huge drop, where it used to be 20, 23 per cent of people."

Ben Julian, of Surf Life Saving Northern Region, said it was not only people unfamiliar with New Zealand conditions that found themselves in trouble - salty old seadogs could also be guilty of being poorly prepared.

"I think it's one of those unfortunate situations where people think it's never going to happen to them and there are some barriers to entry with lifejackets - we're really hoping to get those costs down for lifejackets - but because people don't really think it's going to happen to them they're not taking the precautions.

"And when it does happen to them they're just simply not prepared."

There have been 82 drowning deaths so far in 2018 - water safety advocates are hopeful that could be zero in 2019.