'This young man was going to be the next death': LETTER

DEAR editor,

I was visiting Ballina during the holiday period and was shocked at the number of people taking risks on the water. I wanted to reiterate the sentiments of the gentleman who wrote in to your paper suggesting swimming lessons, but expand on his comments to suggest general water safety instructions.

I am an ex-kayaking instructor (until about 3 years ago), and was appalled at the number of people who were not wearing PFDs (personal flotation devices - used to be called life jackets).

On one occasion I paddled out to a young man because he had tipped himself over in difficult wind conditions, couldn't get back into his boat, was being blown into the channel, and was waving to boats and family members on the shore to seek help! This was beside Missingham bridge off "The Serpentine".

This young man was in an inadequate boat (appeared to be a childs boat), had no PFD on and was unskilled for the current conditions. The conditions were such that even I, as an experienced paddler, was concerned about 20kn winds with 25kn gusts with peak outgoing tide - I kept very close to shore.

I honestly believed that this young man was going to be the next death on NSW waters. I quickly paddled to his aid (his family members had swum out to him as well - 70-80m) to find a very embarrassed and slightly stressed young man of mid to late 20s. It was a ludicrous situation - males are over represented in deaths on the water - no wonder.

During my visit to Ballina (and previous visits), I have been horrified by the number of inexperienced paddlers, and operators of hire craft (paddle boards and kayaks), that did not have on/or have PFDs supplied with boat hire. I find this unconscionable conduct that will ultimately lead to more deaths.

It demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of hazards surrounding water craft.

To prevent further deaths on the water, I would perhaps suggest that with the sale/hire of every kayak/boat/paddle board, a PFD/s should be supplied, along with basic safety instructions - unless of course we are happy with more deaths on the water.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment about this ongoing water hazard.

Greg Rowell

Former kayaking instructor