September 1 hails the official start of both Spring and the scallop season - but it also comes with a safety warning for those seeking the seasonal delicacy in Northland.
Chidambaram Surendran, the Northland Regional Council’s Deputy Harbourmaster, says every scallop season the council receives reports of narrow misses and other issues when good diving practises aren’t followed.
"In the Bay of Islands in particular, a number of boat skippers have reported only just noticing divers and being forced to take last-minute evasive action to avoid them because dive flags were nowhere to be seen or dive boats were not anywhere near the divers."
Mr Surendran says it’s vital for the safety of all parties that it’s clearly signalled when divers are in the water as divers risk serious injury - or even death - if they are hit by boats or their propellers, especially if the vessels are travelling at speed.
He says under Northland Regional Council bylaws, a dive flag must be displayed so it is clearly visible from another vessel 200 metres away.
"The blue and white flag needs to be at least 60cm by 60cm in size and divers have a responsibility to ensure it is flying before they enter the water."
"The dive boat is required to remain within 200 metres of the divers at all times - and be prepared to assist quickly if required - and divers have an equal role to play in ensuring they stay within 200 metres of the boat."
Mr Surendran says other vessels should keep a good lookout for divers in the area - especially the usual spots favoured by those hunting scallops - and should not exceed five knots within 200 metres of a vessel flying a dive flag."We’d prefer if other vessels simply gave both divers and dive boats a really wide berth. Divers can be seriously injured if their presence below the surface is not made obvious to other vessels nearby and propeller strikes can be fatal if a diver surfaces near a moving boat."
Mr Surendran says the regional council’s maritime officers will carry out patrols this year during the start of the scallop season to ensure good diving practices are being followed and to encourage safety.
He says while typically the council prefers to educate rather than issue enforcement notices, "it’s worth noting that an infringement fee of $200 applies for diving-related non-compliances of the Navigation Safety Bylaw requirements"
Mr Surendran says a wealth of information about maritime safety and rules generally is available from the regional council’s website via: www.nrc.govt.nz/onthewater
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