Frustrated Queenstown boaties are warning naive water users against venturing onto Lake Wakatipu in inflatable kayaks.
Last Tuesday two ill-equipped and exhausted young German tourists with no lifejackets in an inflatable kayak were rescued by Paraflights co-owner Chris Bradley. The pair were fined $500.
Bradley took action after the Earnslaw steamship skipper sent out a concern call when he saw the pair in the middle of the lake.
It follows another recent shocker where four men were found on the lake in two similar inflatable boats with no lifejackets.
Both incidents come a year after two ill-prepared French men, Raphael Soubrier, 21, and Yoann Firdion, 24, drowned in Lake Wakatipu when caught in rough conditions. The pair set off in December 2010 in an open canoe with one paddle between them – they were wearing lifejackets but one was a child’s size.
The two young German men rescued last week were between Closeburn and Walter Peak, not far from where the two French men drowned.
“They didn’t understand the danger they were in – they were only seconds away from being popped upside down and fighting for their lives,” Bradley says.
The winds were increasing and they could have easily been thrown from the craft, which would have blown away, he adds.
Bradley says due to the rough waters it would have been difficult for anyone to see them in trouble.
“They were very lucky that the Earnslaw skipper was onto it enough to report it and give us the location.”
Bradley says he told them how stupid they were when he picked them up. The pair told him they didn’t realise how huge the lake was and were tired from paddling – but still didn’t understand what danger they were in, Bradley says.
“We had nine tourists in our boat and two families – the parents commented how horrified they would have been if their kid were doing what those boys were,” Bradley says.
Queenstown harbourmaster Marty Black issued the wayward kayakers a collective $300 fine for not wearing lifejackets and $200 for expenses to rescue them.
“They could have easily been another fatality. It’s just fortunate with the time of day that people were around who are always keeping an eye on things,” Black says.
A similar incident in November saw four men – in similar inflatable kayaks and with no lifejackets – instantly fined.
Both Bradley and Black say the inflatable kayaks are a huge danger and safety precautions need to be set in place by manufacturers.
“These things I believe were only designed for close-to-the-shore, sheltered environments, not in the middle of a major lake that can chop up very rough,” Black says.
Black says warnings on the inflatable kayak packaging or craft itself need to be considered and he plans to raise his concerns at the next local Small Boats Forum in six weeks.
Bradley says so far there’ve been up to 14 calls for assistance or people in strife on the lake over the holiday season and believes not enough people are aware of the dangers and how quickly conditions can change.
“It’s not just happening once a year. It’s a dozen times that people are getting themselves into trouble.
“It’s just a numbers game really as to how many we can get to before something serious happens.
“We see someone putting their life at risk every three to four days – not wearing a lifejacket or doing something silly. I would like to say it’s all a wakeup call but we have been seeing it for years on the lake.”