The debate on whether lifejackets for water skiers will become compulsory in the Bay of Plenty is being referred to the regional council by Coroner Wallace Bain.
A man who can only be identified as Mr A, is found to have drowned in Lake Rotoiti after falling off his ski while crossing the boat's wake on February 12, 2017.
The finding were released recently following an inquest.
The man's son-in-law was at the controls of the boat, the man's wife was the spotter. After he fell, the boat was throttled back and turned to where he was. They could see the water ski, but there was no sign of the man.
His wife said she had seen bad wake crosses before but this one was unremarkable. The equipment was all in good condition, there were no mechanical defects with the boat and there was no alcohol involved. Conditions on the lake were flat calm with no wind.
The body was recovered two days later from 30 meters of water. The post mortem found no sign of contributing medical events.
An expert witness at the inquest, Geoff Thomas felt it was possible Mr A was severely winded when he hit the water and the body may not have been able to surface in time. A life jacket may well have saved that situation.
There was nothing from the lake conditions or the operation of the boat or anything else other than the non-wearing of a life jacket that would have contributed to the death.
The wife advised that in the days prior her husband had gone into numerous boating shops to try and buy a life jacket that fitted him he but could not find one.
“It is clear to the court that it is entirely possible that Mr A would not have drowned had he been wearing a life jacket,” says the Coroner in his finding. “Indeed his attempt to purchase a life jacket that fitted him immediately prior to his water skiing accident confirms that he preferred to have a properly fitting lifejacket whilst water skiing.
“The issue raised by the experts here and the general evidence is whether the wearing of life jackets should be compulsory.”
The New Zealand Coast Guard recommends in its published boating safety code that they be worn especially when the boat is under six meters in length.
In the Bay of Plenty the regional council Navigation Safety Bylaw makes it compulsory that there are enough personal flotation devices on board, and also that every person on board a recreational craft six metres or less must wear a properly secured flotation device of appropriate size.
“The debate is whether for water skiing or other water sports where practical the wearing of a life jacket should be compulsory,” says the Coroner.
In the courts view it may well have saved the life of Mr A had it been worn.
“This Court is not going to make any specific recommendation, but makes these comments as an observation from the evidence before the Court.
“These findings will be forwarded to the Bay of Plenty Regional Council so that they may consider the aspects surrounding this death and water skiing and water sports generally and consult where appropriate to determine whether or not in future they should make any changes with these life jacket rules.”