Water users urged to plan for the worst when preparing to head out

17 October 2022

Maritime New Zealand and the Safer Boating Forum are urging boaties and water users to keep safety front of mind when they head back out on the water.

Monday 17 October marks the start of Safer Boating Week and the traditional start of the summer boating season. 

October is the month many people dust off their recreational crafts and head back out onto the water for the first time since last summer.

Maritime NZ Principal Advisor Recreational Craft, Matt Wood says being prepared is the best way New Zealand’s two-million + recreational craft users can prevent accidents from occurring.

“In 2021, 22 people on recreational craft died or were declared missing (presumed dead), after heading out on the water. These tragic accidents were spread across 18 incidents.

“It is critical that all recreational craft users are prepared for the worst before they head out on the water and can call for help if they need too,” Matt Wood says.

The Safer Boating Forum is a group of organisations – ranging from weather forecasters, Coastguard and smaller organisations like Waka Ama New Zealand - dedicated to improving safety in the recreational boating sector. 

The Chair of the Forum, Sharyn Forsyth, says Safer Boating Week is a key tool in reminding pleasure craft users about the critical importance of safety.

“Safer Boating Week has been running since 2014, and it is still as important as ever.

“All Forum members want to see the incidents of harm reduce, as well as seeing an increase in public knowledge of how to reduce potential risks when on the water,” Sharyn Forsyth says. 

Lifejackets are a must for everyone heading out on a recreational craft, whether it be a kayak or power boat and everything in between, according to Matt Wood.

“Fatal and serious harm incidents always happen quickly.  To have the best chance of survival, you must wear a lifejacket at all times.

“Data shows it doesn’t matter whether you are close to shore, or not. Tragedy can strike anywhere.

“Of the 22 people who died in last year’s recreational craft incidents, 13 died within one nautical mile of shore, or on lakes and rivers.

“Being prepared for the worst might in fact save your life,” Matt Wood says.

www.saferboating.org.nz gives recreational craft users’ guidance on what they need and the steps they should take.

The advice includes how to make a plan before you head out, the ways to be safe on the water, how to maintain your boat and how to safely use different types of recreational crafts. 

Key water user and 2021 fatality report statistics:

  • 2021: 22 deaths (spread across 18 incidents)
    • 2020: 14 deaths
    • 2019: 23 deaths.
  • The 10-year average sits at 17 water craft deaths per year on New Zealand waters
  • Of those who died in recreational craft incidents last year:
    • 20 of the 22 people were male
    • The median age was 55 years old
    • 11 were not wearing a lifejacket when they entered the water.
      • 10 of those people had one available to them.
    • 17 of the 22 people died in spring and summer.
  • More than a quarter of boaties don’t ensure children are wearing a properly fitted lifejacket. And a third of skippers don’t ensure there are correctly fitted lifejackets for all of their passengers
  • There is a 50/50 gender split of water craft users between men and women
  • Only 7% of those surveyed say they create detailed plans of their trips. 25% don’t do any planning at all.

Note to editors:

Safer Boating Forum members include the following:

Accident Compensation Corporation

Auckland Transport Harbourmasters office

Coastguard Boating Education

Coastguard New Zealand

Drowning Prevention Auckland

Environment Canterbury Regional Council Harbourmaster

Greater Wellington Regional Council

Insurance Council of NZ

Jet Boating NZ (JBNZ)

Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers

Maritime New Zealand


Ministry of Transport

New Zealand Marine Industry Association

New Zealand Police

New Zealand Search and Rescue Council

New Zealand Sport Fishing Council

New Zealand Stand Up Paddling Inc

New Zealand Underwater Association

Queenstown Lakes District Council Harbourmaster

Surf Life Saving New Zealand

Swimming New Zealand

Waikato Regional Council

Waka Ama New Zealand

Water Safety New Zealand

Yachting New Zealand

Follow us News feed

Call the MNZ media line