Officers from NSW Maritime have spent the weekend conducting a high-visibility compliance blitz on NSW waters, including the Illawarra.
Following a 67 per cent increase in serious injuries on the water since 2019/2020, Deon Voyer, principal manager south at NSW Maritime, said the focus of the blitz was to confront boaters engaged in unsafe practices and remind those on the water of their responsibilities.
"You're the skipper, you're responsible," he said. "The boat operator is responsible for the safety of the boat and everybody on board."
With recent tragedies such as the capsizing of a boat near Bulli in November last year front of mind, NSW Maritime officers are concerned about the number of serious incidents in the past 12 months.
"Over the past 10 years, it's been about 17 fatalities per annum on average. In the last 12 months there's been 16 fatalities and 13 of those included not wearing a lifejacket," said Mr Voyer.
Rough conditions have also been a contributing factor in over half of all incidents in 2021. Mr Voyer suggested that those wishing to get out on the water reconsider their choice of location if their vessel is not suited to the conditions.
"Coastal waters can be a hazardous environment with large swells."
The actions of NSW Maritime coincided with a warning from NSW Premier Dominic Perrotet and Minister for Emergency Services and Resilience Steph Cooke ahead of the Australia Day holiday that too many people were risking their lives on NSW waters.
"If you are out and about boating please wear a life jacket," said Minister Cooke "It could mean the difference between losing your life or being safe at the end of an incident."
In the past two years boating has become an increasingly popular pastime. NSW Maritime registered a 40 per cent increase in registration transfers for secondhand boats and a 26 per cent rise in new boat registrations for May to December 2020, compared with the same period in 2019. Licences for general boats and personal watercraft also increased 52 per cent on the previous year.
While Mr Voyer welcomed more people enjoying the waters of the Illawarra and NSW, he cautioned that those new to the pastime needed to take adequate precautions and educate themselves on safe practices.
Other drivers also come from social media, where users share pictures of offshore fishing.
"It's freedom," said Mr Voyer, of the appeal of offshore fishing. "It's like a 4WD driver in the outback. People are restricted in their travel so they are looking for alternatives."
As part of the two-day operation, NSW Maritime officers also patrolled waterways in the Shoalhaven, as well as throughout NSW.
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