Mandatory life jackets for rock fishing will not work


Mandatory life jackets for rock fishing will not work

The NSW Deputy Coroner’s recommendation back in July 2015 that wearing life jackets become mandatory for rock fishers has renewed debate about the subject (Coroner’s Report).

On average 7 to 8 rock fishing fatalities occur every year in NSW. It is an extremely sad statistic that so many die pursuing a sport that they love.

So I’ll start out with my opinion – I do wear a life jacket when I’m rock fishing.

However, like many anglers, I feel that I shouldn’t be forced to wear one particularly when conditions do not require it.

Why shouldn’t life jackets be mandatory?

Well let’s kick off with a few reasons:


– Policing the thousands of kilometres of coastline in NSW is extremely prohibitive.

– Under the current trial council rangers (as well as Police, Fisheries and NPWS) are responsible for enforcement but this exposes them to additional workplace risks.

– It pushes additional enforcement costs to councils and police located on the coast when many anglers are simply visiting the area.

– What constitutes a rock fishing situation? What about if I’m standing on a rock in the middle of a beach? How about the harbour side of a breakwall? Is someone going to classify every single rock fishing location and I need to look it up before I go fishing?

– Fining people doesn’t necessarily change behaviour? Heaps of people still take undersized fish despite a fine being attached to that practice.

So what is the solution?

What can you do when people don’t listen to the advertising campaigns and a regulatory approach is near impossible to implement and enforce?

Well I think we have to appeal to something more fundamental – their hip pocket. The Coroner highlighted that each incident costs the community between $450,000 and $600,000 (NSW Coroners Report).

We have to ask ourselves how much longer will taxpayers (politicians) fund rescues before a complete rock fishing ban is implemented?

My suggested approach is that:

Alt NSW Mandatory Lifejacket Proposal


1.   Optional rock fishing insurance should be included with recreational fishing licence fees (like many other sports do). This covers the costs of a rescue situation.An incident could be anything from being washed in, slipping over and breaking a limb or getting stuck on a ledge with a rising tide.

2.   Conditions imposed on the insurance are that anglers need to take adequate measures to protect your own life such as:

– Only fish on days where weather warning has not been issued
– Wearing a life jacket
– Not fishing alone

3.   If you fail to get a licence, don’t purchase insurance or don’t meet the insurance conditions then you have to subsidise the cost of your own rescue.

While this proposal may sound radical it isn’t vastly different from conditions imposed by your car insurer (ie you must have a licence, not be drunk, car must be in roadworthy condition etc)

So what are the costs and benefits?

It’s a tough approach. So what are the benefits?

– Enforcement costs drop to zero and tax payers are no longer slugged with the cost.

– Our sport becomes legitimate like other “organised sports” offering their participants insurance coverage.

– It will encourage anglers to seek medical/rescue assistance when they may otherwise try and swim/climb/limp out of trouble themselves.

– It’s going to cause a huge amount of discussion AND it might just make people think twice about putting themselves in dangerous situations.

I acknowledge there are also many drawbacks to this approach.  It’s difficult sending a family of a deceased angler a bill for $500k that could bankrupt them and leave little kids without a home.

But that’s also kind of the point though. It would certainly make me think twice about wearing a life jacket if that was my legacy.

Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

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The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope.

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