Hewitt to front new maritime safety campaign

12 October 2007

Navy-trained diver Rob Hewitt, who survived four days and three nights alone and adrift at sea, is the new face of Maritime New Zealand’s latest campaign aimed at improving safety on the water.

Starting from Sunday (October 14), Mr Hewitt, from Palmerston North, will front television advertisements encouraging boaties and others to “Stay on Top with Communications Equipment”, in response to the number of preventable deaths caused by people failing to carry reliable communications equipment. “I’m pleased to promote the Maritime New Zealand campaign, which is all about making sure you carry the right communications gear with you on the water. It’s also about thinking ahead and asking yourself if you find yourself in a situation like me, ‘how can I contact my rescuers so they can come and find me’?”

The ex-Royal New Zealand Navy diver and brother of former All Black Norm Hewitt, survived a remarkable 75 hours lost at sea in February 2006, after a routine diving trip off Mana Island on Wellington’s west coast went wrong.  To survive, Mr Hewitt said he drew strength from his family, Tikanga Maori, respect for the sea and his Navy training.

“What I’ve learnt from my ordeal out at sea and my experience in the Navy is the power of communication,” he said. “Of course the simplest form of communication is first talking to someone and saying ‘look, this is where I’m going and this is what I’m doing’ – but it’s also taking the proper precautions and making sure you take the right communications equipment with you when you go out.”

Maritime New Zealand Manager of Recreational Boating Jim Lott said failure to carry reliable communications equipment was the second highest cause of boating fatalities in New Zealand, behind not wearing a lifejacket.

“Our research shows that around 56 per cent of boating fatalities over the last seven years could have been prevented had the victims carried at least one reliable form of communication, such as a waterproof VHF radio or an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB),” he said.

“Sadly, several of those who died were carrying cellphones and were within reception range, but couldn’t call anyone because their phone wasn’t protected by a waterproof bag, so it was completely unusable.”

Mr Lott said the thrust of the Maritime New Zealand campaign was simple: “If you can’t contact anyone, then no-one can rescue you if you get into trouble.

“The reality is that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to enhance your own safety. A waterproof handheld VHF radio is one of the most reliable forms of communication around, yet for only about $200, it’s pretty cheap life insurance. Failing that, even the simple act of popping your cellphone into a resealable plastic bag and tucking it into your pocket before you go out on the water could save your life.”

The new advertising campaign, which coincides with the traditional start of the summer boating season, features English and Te Reo versions. It also follows the successful “Stay on Top with a Lifejacket” and “Stay on Top with the Weather” commercials, the former featuring well known ex-All Black Colin Meads.

A Colmar-Brunton evaluation of the Stay on Top commercials, which have screened for the last four years, showed both had had a positive impact on boatie behaviour. Over 80% of respondents recalled the advertising, saying it had reinforced or changed their behaviour towards wearing lifejackets and checking the marine forecast before going out.

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