Licence to thrill for jetboat companies

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Queenstown commercial jetboat drivers will soon be forced to hold a licence under a tightening of maritime rules. 

And as part of the nationwide first, they could be required to pass “fit and proper person” assessments – including police checks – to get their ticket. 

Maritime New Zealand confirms it plans to change the rule governing commercial jetboat operators over the coming months, before a compulsory licence is introduced next year. 

The proposal follows two deaths from separate Southern Lakes jetboat incidents. Both led to court trials involving drivers charged with operating their vessels in a manner causing unnecessary harm. In one, Kawarau Jet driver Ian Morgan was found not guilty. In the other, Dunedin’s Jeff Donaldson pleaded guilty – he was fined $2500 and ordered to pay $25,000 reparation to the family of UK doctor Paul Woods. 

“These changes have been under development for some time, prompted by a number of accident investigations 
and reviews raising concerns that the current rule does not provide sufficient quality assurance mechanisms to ensure that all jetboat drivers are adequately trained, tested and assessed for ongoing competence,” Maritime NZ spokeswoman Sophie Hazelhurst says. 

Currently, all local commercial drivers must have a minimum 50 hours’ experience before they’re signed off by harbourmaster Marty Black to take paying customers. 

Soon they’ll undergo a more rigorous driving test and ongoing competency checks. 

Black says Queenstown was the only place in NZ that used to have a licensing system – under an old council bylaw – but that was dropped in the late 1990s when Maritime NZ introduced its current rules. 

“I’ve always said right from the start if you operate commercially you need a full ticket,” Black says. 

“It gives the drivers something – they’ve at least got a qualification. And from an enforcement point of view, if someone does something wrong, they’ll have the licence taken off them.” 

Local jetboat companies say the requirement is a good move.
Shotover Jet and Dart River Jet Safaris get their trainees to complete 120 hours on the water. Kawarau Jet allows 100 hours’ training time and Skippers Canyon Jet only employs people with a minimum of 2000 hours. 

“We absolutely endorse it,” Shotover Jet boss and NZ Commercial Jet Boat Association committee member Clark Scott says. 

“The higher the standards we can have in the industry, the better.”

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