Coastguard – Our tsunami plan

At about 1.30am on November 14, I awoke to the trilling of my Coastguard pager.

I would later learn that Kaikoura had been badly damaged, but for now there was an imminent risk of waves up north and it was time to enact our tsunami plan, which runs basically as follows: All available crew to muster at our vessels • Crew at Hibiscus Rescue 1 take vessel east into 30 plus metres depth • Crew at the Sealegs Hibiscus Rescue 2 drive her up Stanmore Bay Road and out of harm’s way • Vessels to return only when the all-clear message is received.

By taking our primary response vessel offshore, there’s a strong chance we can ride out any disturbance, after which we can offer assistance to other vessels. On this occasion, there was no damage, just some rather tired crew that spent several hours on watch and were rewarded with a stunning dawn.

In a future tsunami scenario, your best option is to stay on land and head for high ground – or, if you’re already at sea, head for deeper water (30 plus metres). And don’t forget we’re around to help.

Wear a lifejacket

November also saw the tragic loss of eight lives when the Francie capsized on the Kaipara bar. It highlights not only the danger of bar crossings, but also the need for lifejackets. Each of the three survivors had been carrying – not wearing – a lifejacket when rescued. None of the victims were in lifejackets at the time their bodies were retrieved.

The very next morning, Hibiscus Rescue 1 assisted a small craft whose outboard had failed near the boat ramp. In the boat were a young lad (with a lifejacket) and his mum (without). Dad, also without a lifejacket, was chest-deep in the water trying to fend it off the rocks. The wind was blowing forty knots and rising, against the tide. Who knows what might have happened if their engine had failed an hour later, when they would have been further offshore.

The key part of Navigation Safety Bylaw 2014 can be paraphrased as follows: If you’re on board a vessel under six metres, you must wear a lifejacket of an appropriate size at all times (sub-clause 9:1) – unless the skipper, having determined ‘there would be no reduction in safety’, expressly permits you to remove it (9:2). Sub-clause 9.2 may be open to misinterpretation, but it doesn’t get you off the hook. If there’s a danger to safety, make sure everyone’s wearing a lifejacket, and ensure it fits them. If you’re not sure of the conditions, then should you be on the water?