Don’t be a casualty this winter

01 June 2021

With as many Kiwi boaties dying in winter as in summer, Maritime NZ is urging all those headed out on the water to be prepared for the changing conditions winter can bring. Whether you are kayaking, paddle boarding, jet skiing, fishing or yachting, boating during winter brings additional challenges, such as unpredictable weather and colder conditions.

“It’s tragic that in winter we still see a similar number of recreational boating fatalities as in summer, when many more people are on the water,” says Baz Kirk, Maritime New Zealand’s Manager Sector Engagement and Collaboration. “In 2020, there were four fatalities in the June-August (winter) period compared to five in the December- February (summer) period. And in 2019, there were five fatalities in the winter period and four in the summer period.

“Boating during the winter does require you to take some additional steps to stay safe – but by planning ahead and knowing what you’re facing, you’ll be able to enjoy your time on the water,” he says.

“Over summer 2021, five people perished on our waters and we don’t want to see that same number over winter.”

In winter, New Zealand’s seas, lakes and rivers are very cold. Cold water immersion can kill in as little as 30-40 minutes, especially in New Zealand’s alpine lakes. People in, on or around cold water need to follow the cold water immersion guidelines, known as the 1-10-1 guide:

  • 1 minute to control your breathing – float, don’t panic and try not to hyperventilate
  • 10 minutes to self-rescue, or plan your course of action
  • 1 hour to incapacitation by hypothermia – can you make the safe distance you need by then? If not, stay where you are.

More information on cold water survival is available on the Safer Boating website: survive-in-cold-water
Mr Kirk encouraged people to follow these safety tips to get the most out of their time on the water this winter:

  • Wear your lifejacket
    • Lifejackets help aid buoyancy and keep you warmer if you end up in the water. If you are not wearing a lifejacket you will find it difficult to stay afloat after 10 minutes and other important life-saving/survival activities will become difficult.
    • In winter we add extra layers but you should never wear your lifejacket under a coat or sweatshirt.
  • Take two waterproof ways to call for helpDon't just depend on your mobile phone to communicate as you might not always get great reception when you’re on the water. Have a VHF radio and/or personal locator beacon.  Before you head out make sure everything’s in working order and have everything stored in waterproof containers or bags.
  • Check the marine weather forecast before departing and frequently during your trip, as things can change quickly and unexpectedly. If in doubt, don’t go out!
  • Avoid alcohol – while alcohol may make you feel warm, it actually accelerates heat loss. It makes blood vessels dilate forcing blood closer to the skin.
  • Dress for the weather - always wear layers, and take an extra set of clothes in case you get wet. Choose clothing that’s warm, water-resistant, light-weight and dries quickly. Remember, dress for the water temperature, not the air temperature. If there is a possibility that you might end up in cold water, wear survival equipment or clothing that gives you thermal protection.
  • Be prepared and let others know where you’re going – New Zealand’s weather is changeable at the best of times, so it’s important to let friends and family know where you’re going and when you will return. You can also use your VHF radio to file a trip report with your local coastguard. As the days are shorter, also be sure to leave enough time for your return trip if you want to be back before nightfall. Remember with less daylight hours during winter and increased wind chill you may need to plan for shorter trips.

“We urge people to be prepared so they don’t put themselves or others at risk this winter. We want everyone to come home safely after a great day on the water,” Mr Kirk says.

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