Skippers can be fined and prosecuted for no lifejackets

18 October 2018

Maritime NZ is urging skippers of all recreational boats, no matter how big or small, to “check your lifejackets”.

The skipper must have lifejackets of the right size for everyone on board and must ensure everyone is wearing a lifejacket at times of heightened risk.

“If they do not have lifejackets they can be fined and can be prosecuted but, in the most tragic situation, no court penalty will ever match the death of a family member or a friend on your boat,” Safer Boating Forum Chair, Maritime NZ Deputy Director Sharyn Forsyth, said.

“The skipper is legally responsible for the safety of their boat and all on board, and Maritime NZ takes a strong stance on this.

“This Safer Boating Week we are focusing on lifejackets because they are your number one piece of safety equipment and must be in good condition to save lives.”

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

“Before getting your boat out again consider seriously: ‘Do my lifejackets need replacing?’ Manufacturers recommend replacing lifejackets after about 10 years,” Ms Forsyth said.

Kapok-filled lifejackets should not be used at all. They have not been made since the 1980s and, even if they look brand new and have been well looked after, should be replaced and destroyed.


Kapok is a fluffy, cotton-like plant fibre that can absorb water and cause wearers to sink. Many of these old lifejackets also have cotton straps. Cotton rots over time – even if a lifejacket is not used – and in an emergency can tear or break off.

handfull of kapok

Simple tests for other styles of lifejackets 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

The boating code – five simple things to help keep safer in boats

  • Wear your lifejacket – this is the single most important thing to do to help keep yourself safer on the water.
  • Take two waterproof ways to call for help – if you can’t call, then no one can rescue you.
  • Check the marine weather forecast – it is not the same as land and general forecasts, the weather will be different on the water.
  • Avoid alcohol – you know not to drink and drive, it’s the same on a boat.
  • Be a responsible skipper – the skipper is legally responsible for the safety of the boat and everyone on board. A great way to know the basis is to do the Coastguard Boating Education ‘Day Skipper’ course

Lots more safer boating information at: Safer Boating NZ Facebook, or at

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