Proposed changes to NSW lifejacket laws; wavesailors impacted

Transport for NSW is proposing updates to lifejacket laws in its Maritime Safety Plan 2026. Pertinent to wavesailing (i.e. sailboarding in the surf) is the removal of the caveat that a lifejacket is only required when more than 400m from the shore. In Transport for NSW’s FAQs it states:

What about sailboards and kiteboards?

We have removed the caveat that a lifejacket is only required when more than 400m from the shore.

Whilst well-meaning, this proposal will put wavesailors’ lives at greater risk. This comes from the positive buoyancy created by lifejackets, which prevent wavesailors from diving under and avoiding waves.

Feedback is currently being accepted at: https://www.haveyoursay.nsw.gov.au/maritime-safety. This will close on 24 September 2021.

The risks

An inability of wavesailors to submerge themselves when required creates a number of safety risks. These include:

  1. Wavesailing equipment is more similar to that used in surfing than traditional sailing. Like surfers, wave sailors often have to duck dive under large waves when wind strengths preclude wave sailors from being able to sail over waves. An inability to swim under waves puts wavesailors at greater risk of getting caught by waves and being separated from their gear.
  2. Separation of wavesailors from their gear endangers not only the individual separated, but also others who will be put at risk of being struck by the errant wavesailing gear. Of course wearing a lifejacket also makes it harder to avoid this uncontrolled equipment.
  3. When wavesailing in larger waves, participants depend on being able to swim under waves to avoid being picked up by the wave and thrown ‘over the falls’. The buoyancy of a lifejacket makes it very hard to avoid this. Being carried ‘over the falls’ by a wave puts individuals at risk of hitting the reef, rocks or sandbank on the ocean floor, potentially leading to loss of consciousness, head and spine injuries, and lacerations.

What can we do?

Transport for NSW will be accepting survey submissions about the proposed law changes until 24 September 2021 – you can complete the survey at https://www.haveyoursay.nsw.gov.au/maritime-safety/survey_tools/complete-a-survey1.

You can also email the relevant people at Transport for NSW via maritime@transport.nsw.gov.au.

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