Reducing Harm and Saving Lives: Safer Boating Forum Recreational Craft Strategy 2023-2025

17 October 2023

The Safer Boating Forum (Forum) is launching its new Recreational Craft Strategy 2023-2025 to reduce harm and save lives, as part of the 10th annual Safer Boating Week.

The Safer Boating Forum is a network representing a cross-section of national and regional government agencies, local body groups, organisations and the marine industry, involved in promoting recreational boating safety in New Zealand.

Sharyn Forsyth, Chair of the Forum, says the strategy launch on October 17 is a significant achievement that will reduce harm among the two million recreational craft users in New Zealand each year.

“The aim of this strategy is to reduce harm and ultimately to save lives,” says Sharyn. “It’s a big step forward for the 26 organisations in the forum, which have collaborated on the strategy, as it focuses on interventions that are informed by intelligence and insights. The Strategy will increase alignment between the Forum members and the wider water safety sector to focus on the primary causes of harm and working in partnership to find effective solutions.”

Over the next two years the strategy aims to influence significant year-on-year increases in recreational craft users using lifejackets, carrying two forms of waterproof communication, and checking the marine forecast. It also aims to reduce per capita preventable fatalities by 25 percent by 2025.

“I’m excited that we can launch this strategy today as I know it will help the sector take the right steps towards reducing harm among recreational craft users,” says Sharyn.

Over the past 10 years, 18 people on average have died in recreational craft incidents annually. The majority of these fatalities occur when small craft under six metres suddenly capsize and those on-board have little time to put their life jackets on. Failure to wear a life jacket, or wearing of an ill-fitted life jacket, is the number one cause of death in recreational crafts.

People taking to the water on unseaworthy craft, in unsuitable weather conditions, and without adequate equipment are also significant contributing factors to harm.

Peter Busfield, Executive Director NZ Marine Industry Association says “removing unseaworthy craft from circulation is vital”.

“Boating is a way of life for two million New Zealanders and it is important they know the importance of having a seaworthy boat with the correct safety equipment on board. The education and promotion campaigns the Forum delivers are key to getting this message through. As part of our communications strategy we’re looking to gain the support of boating and marine retailers to deliver safety messages so people come home safe from a day out on the water,” says Peter.

An agency that often sees the impact of what happens on the water is CoastGuard.

CEO, Callum Gillespie of Coastguard NZ, says having the strategy will help the sector work together to achieve the same goals: “This strategy shows that as a sector we are aligned and working together to reduce harm”.

“We all want to see the numbers of preventable incidents of injury and death reduced; everyone in the forum wants people on the water to be able to come home safe.”

The strategy is a practical piece of work that spreads right from national regulatory action through to local council bylaws.

Pete Thomas, Deputy Harbour Master Northland Regional Council and Forum leadership group member, added that strategy initiatives would shape a consistent approach to council bylaws.

“Across the motu, there are different bylaws regarding life jacket wearing and this can be confusing for the public. The Forum is committed to encouraging regional councils to strengthen bylaws and make life jacket wearing compulsory, especially for craft under six meters,” says Pete.

A key component of the new strategy is its work to understand the needs of different communities and water users.

Dr Ngahuia Mita, Forum Kaihautū (leader) says the strategy will reduce harm by coordinating work to understand where improvements can be made and promoting collaboration.

“We know Māori and Pacific communities are over represented in fatalities and the Forum needs to work in partnership with these communities to develop effective solutions together.”

Dr Ngahuia says it is important we have conversations with communities so we know how to ensure safety is at the front of mind.

The Forum’s Recreational Craft Strategy supports the outcome in the Water Safety NZ Water Sector Safety Strategy and supports Maritime NZ’s strategy. Daniel Gerrard, CEO of Water Safety NZ, has welcomed the development.

“As a sector it’s essential we’re all travelling in the same direction and working together effectively. We’re talking with similar people and encouraging them to be safe in the water, so it’s paramount that we are joined up and working as one,” says Daniel.

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