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Newcastle Herald
Newcastle Herald
Madeline Link

Lake Macquarie anchors itself in top three offenders during blitz

NSW Maritime boating safety officer Nikki Waller. Picture by Jonathan Carroll
NSW Maritime boating officer Nicole Waller, left, with Allan and Fran Lindsay during the weekend blitz of inspections. Picture by Jonathan Carroll
NSW Maritime boating safety officer Nikki Waller. Picture by Jonathan Carroll

LAKE Macquarie has anchored itself as one of the top three offenders in the region during a NSW Maritime blitz over the weekend.

Boating safety officers undertook 373 vessel safety checks across the northern region, dishing out fines and cautions for eight offences in Lake Macquarie.

NSW Maritime principal manager north Jay Ruming said the weekend was quieter than expected but the usual offences still reared their heads.

"Things like people not carrying life jackets, not wearing life jackets, not carrying the correct safety equipment and also license and registration," he said.

"We don't get frustrated over it, but we are out there talking to as many people as we can as part of our job.

"It's disappointing more so if you see some people who have been spoken to before, been educated and then to sometimes come across the same person again still not complying can be disappointing."

Officers handed out 16 penalty notices across the northern region and 56 official cautions.

Lake Macquarie came third in the list for offences, behind Port Stephens at 11 and Port Macquarie at 13.

The most common offences were related to life jackets, safety equipment and licence and registration.

Mr Ruming said although its coming up to the end of the boating season, people shouldn't let their guards down.

"Just make sure if you are still boating over the winter months to check the weather before you head out, make sure your vessel is in good working order, and that you have the correct safety equipment on board," he said.

"People need to make sure they have enough life jackets on board for everyone and that they're wearing them when they're meant to."

Of the vessel safety checks across the northern region, 321 were recreational vessels and 52 were jet skis.

All hands on deck for boating safety blitz 

IT'S certainly not a bad view from NSW Maritime boating safety officer Nikki Waller's office.

As school holidays kicked off across the state this weekend, Ms Waller was one of many patrols out in force on Lake Macquarie as part of statewide compliance blitz 'Operation Stay Afloat - Reduce the Risk'.

Despite the scenic location, it's far from a cruisy job, with Lake Macquarie topping the region for maritime offences in the last 12 months.

"What we're looking for this weekend is responsible, safe behaviour, and we'll be reminding everybody of that," Ms Waller said.

"In regards to jet skis and power vessels, we're looking out for safe speeds and safe distance from other vessels, towing activities and showing that all the towing vessels are complying with the regulations such as life jackets, and just general safety on the water."

Tragically, the number of boating-related deaths has doubled from seven last financial year to 14 since July 2023, and of those, 11 were not wearing life jackets.

In the last 12 months, boating safety officers like Ms Waller have conducted more than 47,000 vessel checks across the state, resulting in more than 2100 penalty notices and around 5,700 official cautions.

With 12 years of experience behind her, Ms Waller said one of the main issues officers face is around life jackets.

"We can issue on-the-spot fines for non-compliance with safety equipment and it's generally $250," she said.

"So if you're not carrying a life jacket, or you're not wearing a life jacket when you're required to, you could receive an on-the-spot fine."

While most people try to do the right thing, a big component of Ms Waller's day-to-day job involves education.

"The main thing we find is people aren't checking their equipment before they leave home, that's the main issue," she said.

"So they'll get down here, assuming that their vessel is stocked from last time and have forgotten that they took the life jackets out to clean them or took the whistle or torch out to go camping, so they don't check their gear before they leave.

"So we're asking people to check their equipment before they leave home."

The summer months are their busiest period, and its often when the most fines are issued.

Boating officers will check anything from jet skis to small fishing boats, right up to large private yachts.

Ms Waller said she's on the water most days, and every day is different.

"From water compliance to pollution incidents, to mooring management and dealing with customers, there's a lot that goes on," she said.

"Every situation is different, so you just handle whatever gets thrown at you."

Rough weather is a significant risk to waterway users, with strong winds and choppy waters contributing to more than 100 serious incidents since July, last year.

NSW Maritime North principal manager Jay Running said it was important for people to be respectful of the increased number of families and young people out on the water this school holidays.

"Assess the risk before heading out, keep a proper lookout, stick to a safe speed and if you're not sure, stay ashore and wait until conditions improve," he said.

"The northern region is home to the majority of the coastal bars in New South Wales so a particular focus for us this weekend is making sure skippers heading offshore are aware of how they can reduce the risk.

"Check conditions before heading out using the live coastal bar cameras available on our website, have a Plan B in case conditions aren't ideal and always wear a life jacket."

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