Captain Dave Duncan, Port Nelson Harbourmaster, enjoying a burger for this week's Beers, Burgers & Banter.

Beers, Burger and Banter with Dave Duncan


Every few weeks the Nelson Weekly sits down to have lunch at Burger Culture with someone interesting doing something interesting.

This week we speak to Nelson Harbourmaster Dave Duncan about safety on the water and what to keep in mind as we head into the summer months.

So, heading into the summer period, what are you hoping people remember about being safe on the water?

We would have lost 11 lives last summer in the region if not for the coastguard and surf lifesavers, because of the number of boats that either capsized or sunk unexpectedly or they ended up in the water.

They are all avoidable accidents but, unfortunately, in most of them life jackets weren’t worn. Last summer was scary for us, we were involved in far too many rescues, I’m hoping this summer we won’t have as many.

What are the rules around wearing lifejackets in Nelson?

In this region it’s compulsory to carry a life jacket in a vessel less than six metres, but not compulsory to wear then yet. I’m hoping the council will see some sense in changing that which will bring us in line with other regions around the country.

We have done a lot of work in the last three years. In 2015 we had 60 to 70 per cent compliance, now we have one of the highest – over 95 per cent of people carrying them. It is good, but the life jacket is no good to you if it’s stuck under a seat somewhere.

What about people like paddleboarders?

That’s an interesting one in this region. We insist that paddle-boarders carry a lifejacket, they don’t really understand that yet but they are getting the message. There will be ‘no excuses days’ like in other regions, where people who are not carrying them as required will be ticketed. Last year we were really motivated to ramp it up because of these near misses.

What sort of near misses did you see?

Well, last year we had a man and a 10-year-old boy, and the man went to go check his fuel and both of them ended up in the water in seconds. He didn’t expect it, the boy didn’t expect it, but here they were in the drink. That’s a near miss because they remembered he had a cellphone in his pocket that was water-proof and from that he was able to call and raise the alarm. But if he hadn’t had that it would have been a different story.

What sort of communication should people have?

I’m a big believer in VHF radio, but if it’s a cellphone make sure it’s water-proof or in a water-proof container and then make sure it’s on you, it’s no good if you can’t get to it. Another excellent tool is a flare. They are cheap and one single flare can be seen 40 miles away. We always have people looking out over the water in this region.

So what are the key points for people to remember?

Have a lifejacket, have some sort of communication, check the weather and be wary of alcohol. I’m a great believer in having a beer when you go boating, but only one or two. As soon as you are over the limit you are making the same mistakes.

I think people can be sensible. The best thing is to avoid alcohol altogether when you go boating. The last emphasis is on the skipper responsibility. If we can get that ingrained in people going boating we will have a good safe summer.