Snapshot shows lifejacket message uptake

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 40, June 2012

The annual recreational boat ramp survey provides a ‘snapshot’ of boating behaviour around the country.

The survey is carried out by MNZ’s volunteer safe boating advisors, Coastguard volunteers, New Zealand Search and Rescue and regional council personnel in January and February, with boat ramps from all 16 regional council areas included in the survey.

MNZ Maritime Safety Inspector Alistair Thomson, who coordinates the programme, says the annual boat ramp survey is an excellent example of key maritime sector groups working together. “The number of people surveyed this year is a significant increase on previous years, and shows what can be achieved when organisations work towards a common goal – a safer maritime environment.”

While many boaties are safety conscious, overall results show a concerning level of complacency amongst some boaties in some areas. Results from the 2012 survey show increased uptake lifejackets, but a reduction in carriage of emergency communications equipment.

Alistair, says it’s pleasing to see that more people are carrying and wearing lifejackets and personal flotation devices (PFDs), with 99% of vessels carrying enough for everyone on board. “Our latest campaign ‘Don’t be a clown – wear a lifejacket’ has struck a chord with rec boaties, and we’re seeing behaviour change in action,” says Alistair.

However, that change isn’t flowing through to reduced recreational fatality statistics. “It’s time recreational boaties upped their game across the board when it comes to safety. There were 20 recreational boating fatalities in 2011, compared with 14 in 2010. The tragic thing is that if simple safety practices were followed, such as wearing of lifejackets, carrying emergency communications, checking the weather and avoiding alcohol, many of these fatalities could have been avoided.

If you’re in the majority of boaties that carry a cell phone on board your boat, make sure you carry it on you in a sealed plastic bag – that small action can make all the difference if you suddenly find yourself in the water and it will save you the cost of a replacement phone if you get it wet.

This survey showed that more than 90 percent of recreational boaties surveyed had a cell phone on board, but only half of these took the simple step of putting their phone in a plastic bag,” says Alistair.

Overview of results from the 2012 recreational boat ramp survey

  • 2,139 vessels/skippers were surveyed in 2012 (up from 1,423 in 2011)
  • 94% of vessels had all (38%) or some (56%) of people on board wearing lifejackets, compared with 73% of vessels in 2011
  • 99% of vessels carried enough lifejackets or PFDs for all on board (93% in 2011)
  • 62% of vessels carried a VHF radio (67% in 2011)
  • 15% of vessels carried an emergency beacon, with 12% carrying an EPIRB and 3% carrying a PLB (18% in 2011)
  • 91% of vessels carried a cell phone (93% in 2011)
  • 53% of those carried the cell phone in a dry bag (58% in 2011)
  • 52% of vessels carried a flare (60% in 2011)
  • 70% of vessels carried two or more means of communicating distress (87% in 2011)
  • 79% of vessel skippers checked the weather before departure (86% in 2011).

Who was surveyed?

The surveyors interviewed the skippers and occupants of vessels, which were generally less than 6 metres in length, and included powerboats (67%), personal water craft or jetskis (6%), kayaks and canoes (3%), dinghies, and small yachts (both 2%), and inflatable tenders (1%). Two-thirds of surveyed vessels were named and one-third were unnamed.

More than two-thirds of surveys were undertaken at North Island boat ramps, with 20% of surveys conducted at South Island boat ramps. Boat ramps in the Thames-Coromandel region accounted for 43% of all responses, followed by the Nelson-Tasman region (11%), Waikato (9%), Auckland (8%) and Otago (6%).

Vessels with two adults on board were most commonly surveyed (35%), followed by vessels with three adults (25%), four adults (18%), one adult (12%) and five adults (7%) on board. Around 4% of vessels had six or more adults on board.

Seventy percent of vessels surveyed had no children aged 10 years or under on board and 30% of vessels had one or more children aged under 10 on board.

Just over 5% of respondents had been boating five or fewer times, around one-third had been boating between 11 and 20 times and 61% had been boating between 11 and 50 times. Half of all those surveyed had been boating fewer than twenty times and 80% had been fewer than 50 times.

Lifejackets – useless unless worn

It’s a legal requirement to carry a correctly sized, serviceable lifejacket or PFD of the right type for each person on board a pleasure boat in New Zealand. This rule applies to all boats, including tenders and larger craft.

It is the skipper’s legal responsibility to ensure that lifejackets are worn in situations of heightened risk, such as when crossing a bar, in rough water, during an emergency, and by non-swimmers.

Lifejackets carried by number of people on board

Lifejackets carried by number of people on board

The survey found 99% of vessels met the legal requirement to carry enough lifejackets or PFDs for all people on board (up from 93% in 2011).

On 94% of vessels surveyed, some or all of those on board were wearing lifejackets or PFDs, compared with 73% of those on board in 2011.

On 38% of the vessels, all of the occupants were wearing lifejackets or PFDs at the time of the survey, and some of the occupants were wearing lifejackets or PFDs on 56% of vessels.

On 6% of the vessels, no one on board was wearing lifejackets at the time of the survey. On 2% of vessels, one or more children aged 10 and under were not wearing a lifejacket or PFD.

One percent of vessels did not meet the legal requirement of carrying enough lifejackets and PFDs for all on board and no lifejackets were carried on less than 1% of vessels.

Lifejackets carried by vessel type

Lifejackets carried by vessel type

Skippers of dinghies and inflatable craft were the most likely to carry enough lifejackets for all on board (both 100%), followed by skippers of powerboats (98%), yachts (97%), kayaks (96%) and jetskis (94%). Lifejacket carriage was higher across the board for all vessel types, compared with 2011.

Communications equipment – if you can’t contact us, we can’t rescue you

The survey found 70% of vessels were carrying the recommended two or more types of emergency communications equipment, and 94% of vessels carried at least one piece of communications equipment. No emergency communications equipment was carried on 6% of vessels.

Number of communication types carried

Number of communication types carried

Emergency communications equipment includes VHF radios, distress beacons (PLBs – personal locator beacons or EPIRBs – emergency position-indicating radio beacons), distress flares and cell phones.

Communication types carried

Number of communication types carried

The survey found the most common type of communications equipment carried was a cell phone, with 91% of vessels carrying at least one. Of these, 53% of skippers carried their cell phones in a plastic bag. The next most common type of equipment was a VHF radio (carried by 62% of vessels), followed by flares (52%), and distress beacons (15%).

The survey found skippers of powerboats were the most likely to carry two or more types of communications equipment (77%), followed by skippers of yachts (66%), inflatable craft (37%), kayaks (28%), jetskis (23%), and dinghies (21%).

Two or more communication types carried by vessel type

Two or more communication types carried by vessel type

It is recommended that vessels carry at least two types of emergency communications that will work even when wet. Each type of equipment has strengths and weaknesses, so it pays to know what will work best in the area you are going. Cell phones should not be relied upon as the main form of communication and should be carried on your person in a sealed plastic bag, as they are useless once wet.

Register your beacon

Boat ramp survey results show that, of those who carried a distress beacon (EPIRB or PLB), 61% of EPIRBs and 66% of PLBs were registered. Registering your beacon is a legal requirement and it’s free. A registered beacon means a more targeted response can be launched in the event of a beacon activation and it also means a search and rescue response is less likely to be launched in the event of an inadvertent activation.

Weather – if in doubt, don’t go out

The number of skippers checking the weather conditions before departure dropped in 2012, down to 79% from 85% in 2011.

Weather checked before departure

Weather checked before departure

Owners of powerboats were most likely to have checked the marine weather forecast (82%), while kayakers (68%) and yachties (56%) were least likely to have checked the forecast.

Marine weather forecasts are readily available on VHF radio channels, the internet, newspapers, and local and national radio.

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