A bylaw to ban jet skis from some island beaches is being investigated by Waiheke Local Board.
At the board’s meeting last Thursday, island resident Sally Lumsden raised concerns about a new jet ski business operating on Waiheke.
In December, Auckland Transport approved a street trading licence for Waiheke Island Jet Ski Tours to operate on Onetangi Beach for three months.
Ms Lumsden said she has seen people hiring jet skis from the company without taking part in a guided tour.
“The operator said he has consent to hire the jet skis without a guide,” she said.
“Onetangi is a very popular beach used extensively by families. My concern is for the safety of swimmers at the beach – it’s only a matter of time before you have some terrible accident.”
The owner and operator of the jet ski business, Vaughan Pothan, says the business is allowed to hire out jet skis, but chooses to operate tours with a guide.
However, the possibility of both jet ski tours and hire is mentioned on the company’s website.
At the local board meeting, chairperson Paul Walden asked council officers to investigate the possibility of imposing a bylaw to ban jet skis from some Waiheke beaches.
“Most cities in Australia have banned jet skis from most of their harbours, so we’re not in a space of being ‘far enough behind to be ahead’ on this one.
“This business is totally out of step with the culture of Waiheke and the values which should be upheld in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park,” he said.
Jet skis are often ridden “dangerously fast” by people with no licence and no experience operating small vessels.
“It is just reckless having learners thrust onto high-powered motorbikes of the sea and sent out through a beach full of swimmers.”
Mr Walden hopes Auckland Transport and Auckland Council will decline the company’s application to renew its street trading licence when it expires later this month.
Waiheke is also the “Sealegs capital of the world” and restrictions on locations where these amphibious vessels can be launched might also need to be considered, he said.
Mr Pothan says his company can operate tours without a street trading licence if necessary and would be willing to work around any bans that were imposed on jet skis in particular areas. He argues that his business may be getting the blame for irresponsible individuals on jet skis that are not part of the guided tours.
“We chose to do tours because we care about the environment and about the impact on the local people, who are probably against jet skis.
“We don’t want people out on jet skis not abiding by the rules and being chaotic, which is why we have a skipper as a guide.
“We’re running this business in a sensible way – there are lots of jet skis coming over from Auckland and there will be more coming over that are not part of our tours.”
Although the business has a licence to operate all day from the eastern end of Onetangi Beach, it also begins tours elsewhere on the island. The company’s website states that tours are 30 to 150 minutes and can include Oneroa, Sandy Bay, Hekerua Bay, Enclosure Bay, Palm Beach, Onetangi Beach, Pie Melon Bay, Carey Bay, Cactus Bay, Garden Cove, and Owhiti Bay.
Waiheke little blue penguin guardian Sue Fitchett has also raised concerns that jet skis could disturb or kill the native seabirds that live at the western end of Onetangi Beach and elsewhere around the island. She says boat strike has killed at least three penguins this summer – a worrying increase.
“People need to slow down and take care, particularly at dawn and dusk when the penguins come ashore.”
Auckland Harbourmaster Andrew Hayton states that skippers of jet skis must comply with national maritime rules and local navigational safety bylaws.
This means jet skis must not go faster than five knots within 200 metres of the shore or within 50 metres of another vessel or a person in the water.
However, vessels can travel faster than five knots in two access lanes, marked with black and orange striped buoys, at the eastern end of Onetangi Beach, at Surfdale and at 22 other Auckland beaches.
The public is consulted on the location of the access lanes every five years when bylaws are reviewed.
Complaints about the use of jet skis or other vessels should be made to the harbourmaster’s office, phone 362 0397 or email email@example.com.
The local board also wants to be kept informed about any problems experienced with jet skis, says Mr Walden.
• Rose Davis