Safer Boating Week: Check your lifejackets – old lifejackets can fail

3 October 2018

New Zealand’s national Safer Boating Week (October 12-19) has an important new message for boaties: Check your lifejackets because old lifejackets can fail.

“Many boaties’ lifejackets are too old and will not help you float,” Safer Boating Forum* Chair, Sharyn Forsyth, said.

Manufacturers say lifejackets should be replaced after up to 10 years.

“Seawater and sun are tough on equipment, and wear and tear can shorten your lifejackets’ lifespan to less than 10 years,” Ms Forsyth said.

“Worryingly, we know many Kiwi boaties are still relying on kapok-filled lifejackets that are 30 to 50 years old.

“Kapok-filled lifejackets are dangerous, even if they look brand new and have been well looked after.” Kapok is a fluffy plant fibre, similar to cotton. It has not been used in lifejackets since the 1980s because it can absorb water and cause wearers to sink.

The cotton straps on these old lifejackets are also a serious risk. They rot over time – even if a lifejacket is not used. In an emergency cotton straps can tear or break off.

Lifejackets with either kapok filling or cotton straps should be destroyed and new jackets purchased.

Modern lifejackets of all types should be tested every time before they are worn. If they are 10 years old, destroy them and replace them.

Simple tests for all your lifejackets of all styles to do every time before you go on the water:

  • Pull the straps, hard. If any of them stretch or tear, do not use the lifejacket, dispose of it, and replace it.
  • Check for any existing tears or cuts in the straps. If there are any, do not use the lifejacket, dispose of it, and replace it.
  • Check for any tears, cuts, or punctures in the lifejacket. If there are any, do not use the lifejacket, dispose of it, and replace it.
  • Check if it floats.
  • Lots more information about safety, storage, and details for checking inflatable lifejackets is at

[Maritime NZ can provide pictures; phone 04 499 7318 or email]

October 12 starting with a splash!

On Friday October 12 in Auckland, and Wellington boating organisations’ leaders are jumping into their harbours, while wearing lifejackets, making a splash, and drawing attention to Safer Boating Week. In Wellington the jumpers will be led by Maritime NZ’s Chair, Belinda Vernon.

Prep, check, know

Safer Boating Week is traditionally the week before Labour Day weekend, which is when many boaties start getting back on the water.

It uses the slogan “Prep, Check, Know,” to encourage boaties to take simple steps to get their boats and themselves ready before they get back on the water.

Prep your boat - service the engine, check and change the fuel, check the battery, and generally give the boat a good once-over

Check your gear - make sure your lifejackets are still fit for purpose and you have enough, service any inflatable lifejackets, ensure you have two reliable forms of communication equipment – usually, marine VHF radio is best, check the marine weather forecast.

Know the rules - ensure you know the rules of the road on the water, and check your local bylaws to make sure you understand what the requirements are in your area.

Boating by the numbers

  • 1.51 million adults in New Zealand (about 42% of the adult population ) took part in recreational boating last summer
  • Kayaks were again the most popular form of recreational vessel owned or used by boaties (33%), followed by power boats up to 6 metres (22%) and dinghies (11%).

Some long-term statistics:

  • 90% of fatalities are men aged about 40 and older
  • 85% of fatalities occur in boats less than six metres long
  • For 75% of fatalities in boats less than six metres capsize is a major factor; 28% for vessels over six metres
  • 2/3 fatalities would likely be prevented if lifejackets were worn
  • For around 58% of fatalities, no effective communications is a major factor
  • 19-20 boaties, on average, die each year (based on last five years); 19 last year and three this year as at October 1.

What’s on in your community?

There are lots of activities and photo opportunities around the country – details at, and photos from Safer boating Week 2017 are available by calling Maritime NZ 04 499 7318 or emailing

* The Safer Boating Forum

The Forum is made up of boating and water safety organisations, the marine industry, and central and local government agencies. It works to reduce boating injuries and fatalities, and improve boat safety behaviour.

Forum members are: ACC, Coastguard Boating Education, Coastguard New Zealand, Drowning Prevention Auckland, Jet boating NZ, Kiwi Association of Sea Kayakers, local authorities, Maritime NZ, New Zealand Jet Sports Boating Association, New Zealand Marine Industry Association, New Zealand Police, New Zealand Search and Rescue Council, New Zealand Underwater Association, Surf Lifesaving New Zealand, Waka Ama NZ, Water Safety New Zealand, Whitewater New Zealand, and Yachting New Zealand.

All media releases

Subscribe Follow us News feed

Call the MNZ media line