State Insurance, Take A Bow

By David

Last week Swimwatch reported on the absence of lifejackets on the boat carrying “feeders” at the Swimming New Zealand Open Water Championships. Instead of just complaining about the problem I decided to contact State Insurance. After all State is paying Swimming New Zealand close to a million dollars a year to promote water safety. If the Miskimmin and Renford run Swimming New Zealand is ignoring their water safety duties, State should know about it.

Unfortunately I cannot copy my email to State. I wrote it on the State website’s email complaint facility. This does not allow the writer to retain a copy. However I simply pointed out that “feeders” should have been wearing lifejackets. Given State’s huge investment in water safety, I was sure State would want a product carrying their name to observe the highest standard of aquatic care. If this had not happened at Taupo then Swimming New Zealand use of State’s money could be considered hypocritical.

I did not expect a reply from State. You wouldn’t get one from Swimming New Zealand. They say ““Excellence – Integrity – Accountability” but don’t mean it. However, I underestimated “State”. That afternoon I received the following reply.

Hi David,

Thank you for taking the time to send us your complaint around the use of life jackets for the recent Open Water Champs event on the weekend which forms part of the State Epic Swim event. When I first read your email I too was alarmed with the apparent lack of safety, something that Swimming NZ and State have been working hard on over the past few years. I know the Event Manager well at Swimming New Zealand so asked for a quick debrief around the issue.

 It appears that the original vessel that was charted to hold the support crew for the swimmers, the size of which required supporters to wear a life jacket, became unavailable in the days preceding the event. Swimming NZ set about to quickly source an alternate vessel for the support crew of the swimmers taking part and secured the use of a second larger enclosed vessel. The size of this new vessel meant supporters did not need to wear life jackets as the vessel carried its own supply in case of an emergency.

 While we receive brand recognition via our sponsorship of an event like this one, the safety of all participants, their spectators and families is our main concern. Safety protocols and emergency plans are always in place and often reviewed. I hope the above explanation helps put your mind at ease about this. I believe the event was enjoyed by all with some exhilarating swimming in the 5km and 10km races on Saturday.

Kind regards, Sean Craigen, Sponsorship & Events Activation Specialist – State & AMI

I debated whether the conversation should be continued. No one likes a complaining fanatic. However I decided to reply. The email from State was so obviously sincere, that the con-job, the whitewash, the snow job by Swimming New Zealand should not be allowed to go unanswered. This is my reply.

Sean Hi,

Thank you very much for taking the time to look into my concerns regarding lifejackets at the Open Water Championships. “State” is a huge organisation. I’m sure you have more important things to do than follow up on these type of issues. For that reason I would not normally reply to your explanation. However in this case and because I think you have been misled I think a follow up has merit.

I believe you have been misled for the following reasons:

1. Although it is correct to say a bigger boat was found the nature of the activity taking part on the boat made the wearing of a lifejacket at least prudent. As each swimmer passed the boat “feeders” were required to reach out over the boat’s side to provide food and drink. I doubt there is a water safety expert alive who would not agree that in these circumstances the “heightened risk” of feeding made the wearing a lifejacket prudent and probably essential. It may not have been required by law, but I doubt that is the point of “State’s” water safety message.

2. However what is required by the Taupo authorities is the wearing of a lifejacket in vessels under 6 meters. Every person on the “big” boat was transferred from the beach to the big boat in a small rubber dingy. During that trip each dingy carried six people; a big load. Each trip involved a fairly difficult transfer from dingy to the deck of the big boat. For some of the older supporters that was not an easy climb. Maritime rules provide that it is a legal responsibility to ensure that lifejackets are worn in situations of heightened risk. This transfer was certainly “heightened risk”. With the exception of me not one person wore a lifejacket in the small rubber boats, during the ferry trip.

Swimming New Zealand’s explanation does not excuse the failure to wear lifejackets in these two circumstances.

Thank you again for your time. Yes the swimming on display was of great credit to all those involved.

David Wright, Head Coach, West Auckland Aquatics

Of course, Sean Craigen could be excused for concluding he had stumbled upon a born trouble-maker. If he does feel that way I would be surprised. Why? Because his reply indicates real concern; an emotion that is justified and may encourage Swimming New Zealand to begin acting with the integrity of their sponsor. Right now, while they drive around in Mazda luxury, while they add “Excellence – Integrity – Accountability” on their emails, while they ignore the water safety rules of the nation, in my view, they forfeit the right to any further State money. This is Sean’s reply:

Hi David,

Thanks for the below. I’ll stress the importance of mandatory life jackets for future events during the debrief with Swimming NZ, particularly on the transfer part of the process as the Surf Life Saving IRBs are not the most stable.

 Kind regards, Sean

As so often happens in cases like this one, the events that lead to my complaint are bad. However Swimming New Zealand’s cover up is far worse. Swimming New Zealand seem incapable of saying, “Opps, sorry you guys. Got it wrong. Won’t happen again.” Their behaviour suggests Swimming New Zealand is a stranger to the meaning of “Excellence – Integrity – Accountability”

State’s reaction on the other hand has been exemplary. In the insurance business you need a supplier that can be trusted, that will reply to your concerns and that will act. If my experience today is anything to go by – get a quote from State next time you need to insure something.