Forget the gumboots but not the lifejackets

18 October 2022

Boaties are being urged to wear appropriate clothing and lifejackets after a man drowned despite access to life-saving gear.

Jamie Stephen Boniface, 28, drowned after the boat he was in lost control, throwing him and two others overboard during a fishing trip in Southland’s Riverton estuary on September 9, 2018.

The Coroner’s report into his death, released recently, said all three men resurfaced close together. Two held on to the bow of the semi-submerged boat while Boniface attempted to swim to shore, about 100m away.

He was not a good swimmer and a friend urged him to take off his gumboots. It was then that he disappeared and did not resurface. His body was found three days later.

Coroner Heather McKenzie concluded Mr Boniface had been weighed down by his gumboots and that water filling them made it difficult to remove them, which led to him drowning.

She recommended that gumboots not be worn on boats smaller than 6m in length.

The Coroner also pointed out that the men were each given lifejackets by a family member before they set off, but instead of putting them on they stored them away on the boat.

She wrote that “it is reasonably possible that had Mr Boniface been wearing a lifejacket his chances of survival would have materially increased”.

Matt Wood, Maritime NZ’s Principal Advisor Recreational Craft, says lifejackets are a key piece of safety equipment and should be worn by boaties at all times.

“If you aren’t wearing a lifejacket, your chances of survival are greatly reduced,” he says.

Even what seemed like the easiest fishing trips could go wrong.

“Everyone on board a boat less than six metres should wear a lifejacket at all times,” says Matt.

“Most accidents occur suddenly, with no warning – there may be no time to grab a lifejacket, and it is extremely difficult to put on a lifejacket in the water.

“Many people drown within 200 metres of shore.”

The majority of incidents are preventable, says Matt.

“This is another tragic example of the consequences if people don’t follow the boating safety code.

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