Rock fishers' practice and perception of water safety

TitleRock fishers' practice and perception of water safety
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsDr Moran, K
Conference NameWorld Conference on Drowning Prevention
Date Published09/2007
PublisherInternational Life Saving Federation
Conference LocationPorto, Portugal
Other Numbers02-53

Context: Rock fishing is one of New Zealand’s most dangerous pastimes. In the 16 years between 1980-1995, 63 people lost their lives while fishing off New Zealand’s rugged coastline. In spite of high profile media coverage, little is known about the drowning risk practices and perceptions of rock fishers.

Method: Four high-risk land-based fishing locations on Auckland’s west coast were selected as sites to conduct a survey and pilot safety campaign during the summer months of 2005-06. All rock fishers either on-site or in transit to the sites were asked to complete a self-directed, written questionnaire that sought information on fishing practices and beliefs. A very high response rate (91%) was obtained with only 21 refusals during the 10-week data-gathering period resulting in a final database of 250 fishers.

Results and Discussion: In terms of survival ability, one third (n = 81; 32%) of fishers estimated they could swim non-stop for 25 m or less, one third (n = 79; 32%) estimated that they could swim 100 m. In terms of at-risk behaviours, almost three quarters (n =180; 72%) never wore a buoyancy aid, almost one half had gone to the water’s edge to retrieve a snagged line (n = 120; 48%) and one fifth (n = 50; 20.0%) had consumed alcohol while fishing from rocks.

Most fishers agreed that always wearing a lifejacket made fishing a lot safer (n = 176; 71%) and that turning their backs to the waves when rock fishing was very dangerous (n = 230; 92%). However, as previously indicated, many rock fishers admitted that they had never worn a lifejacket when fishing. This gap between what rock fishers think and what they do with regards to their safety suggests that entrenched risky practices persist even when participants are aware of the danger.

Implications: Many fishers have on overly optimistic view of their survival skills in a high-risk fishing environment and many take unnecessary risks when fishing from rocks. While most recognised the need for safety precautions such as the wearing of buoyancy aids, few practiced this precaution. Further onsite safety education is recommended with the emphasis being placed on the wearing of inflatable life jackets especially around isolated coastlines where rescue services are not immediately available.

Full PDF copy of the Report is available at:

Learning Outcomes
  1. Recognise rock fishing as a high risk recreational activity and identify high-risk groups within the fisher community
  2. Be aware of the limited water safety knowledge/skills, and prevalence of unsafe attitudes and risky behaviour that underpin much rock fishing activity
  3. Identify possible interventions that may address the water safety shortcomings identified