Education campaign urges boaties to wear life jackets but making it compulsory under law stalls

Headshot of Josh Zimmerman
Josh ZimmermanThe West Australian
The State Government has launched a life jacket campaign for boaties.
Camera IconThe State Government has launched a life jacket campaign for boaties. Credit: TONO-BALAGUER/lunamarina - stock.adobe.com

An “education campaign” urging boaties to use life jackets has been launched in time for the school holidays after the State Government failed to implement laws that would make the safety devices compulsory more than a year after they were announced.

Transport Minister Rita Saffioti unveiled a raft of new rules for recreational water vessels in October 2021, including making it mandatory for children aged one to 12 to wear a life jacket when more than 400m offshore in unprotected waters such as the ocean.

For vessels less than 4.8m in length, every person aboard would be required to wear a life jacket in the same circumstances.

It would also become mandatory for boats operating on rivers to carry life jackets.

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Fourteen months later, the drafting of the new legislation and regulations has stalled, with Ms Saffioti on Friday saying it was now hoped the rules would be in place “by next summer”.

Appearing alongside recently retired Fremantle Dockers legend David Mundy, who features in the new education campaign, Ms Saffioti said the drafting process had proved “far more difficult” than expected.

“But we wanted to make sure that we’re out there on the front foot and also creating this transition plan, so we’re out there promoting the new rules that will be coming into place,” she said.

“So in a sense it’s an education program leading into what will be the enforcement.”

Plans to force skippers to submit to targeted breath and drug-testing — first proposed by the Government in January 2019 — are also yet to materialise.

Under existing laws, skippers can be fined $1000 if they are incapable of operating their vessels because of drugs or alcohol — but police and water authorities do not have the power to breathalyse or drug test them.

Instead, they must rely on “visual impairment” sobriety tests that are difficult to rely on in court.

 Life jackets save lives.
Camera Icon Life jackets save lives. Credit: unknown

The Government had proposed bringing boaties into line with motorists and make it an offence to skipper a vessel with a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 or above.

Ms Saffioti said those plans were “not part for the reforms” that would be introduced in 2023.

“That is subject to further discussions with the Police Minister and the Police Commissioner. It’s ongoing,” she said.

The Transport Minister said 17 West Australians had died on the water in boating incidents since 2020 and that a quarter of those could have been prevented if the victims had been wearing life jackets.

“The education program is all about making sure skippers carry life vests and life jackets on boats and also making sure that children are wearing life jackets out in the open water,” she said.

“We know there are a number of preventable deaths with people drowning at sea and so as a result, we went to the community and worked with industry to develop a raft of new initiatives to help improve safety on our waters.”

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