Mandatory float-free EPIRBs for fishing vessels will save lives

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 53, July 2018

Multiple lives lost at sea are the reason float-free distress beacons will be compulsory for domestic fishing vessels 7.5-24 metres in length, from January 2019.

President of Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Doug Saunders-Loder, supports the move. “This is a practical change that will make commercial fishing safer and help save lives – which is part of our core business, and a high priority for our organisation,” he says.

New Zealand has had an array of medium size, in-shore fishing vessels that have sunk in the past decade or so – resulting in the deaths of 24 seafarers and passengers. Two vessels went down in the Foveaux Strait - Kotuku on its way back from mutton-birding in 2006, and the over-loaded Easy Rider in 2012. Eight of the nine people on board the Easy Rider did not survive, while six out of nine aboard Kotuku also lost their lives when the vessel unexpectedly capsized.

Authorities, including Coroners and the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, have repeatedly called for floatfree emergency locator or distress beacons (EPIRBs) to be made compulsory. EPIRBs automatically deploy and activate when submerged in water – alerting the RCCNZ to the location of the emergency.

Maritime NZ General Manager Maritime Standards, Sharyn Forsyth, says often fishermen can be working alone or in pairs and are unlikely to have time to set off a fixedposition EPIRB if the vessel gets into difficulty. Factors such as a sudden deterioration in weather and overloading, or other stability issues, can mean a vessel capsizes or sinks suddenly.

Sharyn Forsyth with a float-free EPIRB
Maritime New Zealand © 2020
Maritime NZ General Manager Maritime Standards Sharyn Forsyth with a float-free EPIRB, similar to those required by 1 January 2019.

“Lifejackets are also a major factor in increasing the likelihood of crew and passengers surviving in the water. A float-free EPIRB will raise the alarm, but survivors need to be able to stay afloat until help arrives. Lifejackets also help save lives. It’s important to check lifejackets regularly and ensure any lifejacket over 10 years old floats and meets New Zealand standards.”

Sharyn says Maritime NZ wants to give fishing operators plenty of warning of the new requirement in the lead up to float-free EPIRBs becoming compulsory on January 19.

“We hope this notice period will assist operators who are replacing their old EPIRBs over the coming months.”

The new Maritime Rule was introduced following consultation and applies to fishing vessels between 7.5 metres and 24 metres operating outside enclosed waters, such as harbours, estuaries and other inland or sheltered waters.

Once the Rule is implemented, ship surveyors will check vessels have a float-free EPIRB on board at the time of survey and maritime officers will monitor compliance as part of MOSS (Maritime Operator Safety System) audits.

Coming soon - an easier way to register your EPIRB

Distress beacon users will soon be able to register and update their details online at
Registration is a legal requirement and makes search and rescue more efficient. Previously, beacon details had to be updated manually via email, over the phone or using paper forms. “We ask people to register their beacon because it helps our team find them faster,” says Rescue Coordination Centre NZ Manager Mike Hill.

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