Water safety signage row

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National and local water safety officials disagree on warning signs for tourists. 

In the latest incident last Friday, reportedly four foreigners – three without lifejackets – were stranded while kayaking and paddleboarding a Kawarau River rapid. Local harbourmaster Marty Black retrieved two men on his jetski. 

Earlier that day, Water Safety New Zealand Matt Claridge told Mountain Scene, while visiting Queenstown, warning signage, and information brochures at accommodation, are advisable. 

“If you’re to just constantly beat a drum about how tourists don’t know what they’re doing, you’ve got to do something. Because they come and go every day, signage is probably one of the better interventions.” 

Black says: “You can have all the signage you want. At the end of the day we’ve never had any great success – people don’t read it.” 

In one of Lake Wakatipu’s worst incidents two ill-prepared French men Raphael Soubrier, 21, and Yoann Firdion, 24, drowned at night in December, 2010, when caught in rough conditions while trying to paddle back from Cecil Peak. The pair were in an open canoe with one paddle – while one lifejacket was a child’s size. Local boaties earlier warned them of potentially rough conditions and even offered a ride back. 

Black says a jetski driver who fell into the Kawarau two years ago had to be rescued after launching right beside a sign. 

Black says he’s even cut down on wordy signage: “The waterski lane used to have 100 words on it, now we just say, ‘waterski access lane’.” 

Black says there’s good signage at every boat-launching ramp. 

“If anybody’s got suggestions, let’s have it.” 

Black says he’s open-minded about putting more brochures into accommodation outlets. 

Claridge advises anyone going into water to use lifejackets and two forms of communication like a mobile phone and a VHF radio. 

“Someone should know where you’re going and you most definitely shouldn’t be having a drink before and during your time out.”