Four recreational boating fatalities so far this year - how not to become a statistic

19 December 2018

Amongst the sad drowning statistics released at the weekend, there is some good news in that recreational boating fatalities are well down on last year’s figures: So far this year four people have died in boating accidents and Maritime NZ has simple advice for boaties to help keep that number down.

Maritime NZ Director, Keith Manch, said each year about 19 or 20 recreational boaties die on the water, with there being a sudden spike in fatal accidents at the end of the year.

“What we think happens is boaties get back on the water and discover, too late, something is wrong with their boat or gear and they are out of practice,” Mr Manch said.

“We don’t want that happening this year.

“We urge boaties, before you go out, check your boat and prep your gear. Make sure it is all okay, and know the rules and what you need to do.

“On the water, the two things that save the most lives are, without a doubt, wearing your lifejacket and having two waterproof ways to call for help.

“Lifejackets have saved countless lives, but if you can’t call for help then no one can rescue you and hypothermia becomes a real risk.

VHF radio

“For the first time, this summer Maritime NZ is focusing its advertising campaign on marine VHF radio. Lifejacket behavior is good, and we want to maintain that, but only one in four boaties is carrying a VHF radio.

“If you are boating on the coast get a VHF radio and do Coastguard Boating Education’s online VHF course. It’s simple and will help you get the most out of your VHF radio.

“VHF radio really is your rescue network at sea – you can talk to other boaties and commercial vessels near you, and the maritime distress channel 16 is monitored 24/7 by Maritime Radio.

“However, things can go wrong so always have a back-up and take two waterproof ways to call for help.”

Other options, in addition to VHF radio, include distress beacons (also known as PLBs and EPIRBs), flares and a cellphone but it must be in a waterproof bag.


While 75 percent of boaties wear lifejackets all or most of the time on the water, there will be no relaxing of lifejacket messages this summer.

“Maritime NZ is proud to continue funding Coastguard’s ‘Old4New Lifejacket Upgrade,” Mr Manch said.

This year Maritime NZ has provided $70,000 so the Old4New van can provide 4,000 new lifejackets, at a discounted price, at 56 locations around the country. People who can’t meet the van at a local spot can take up the offer at Boating and Outdoors stores.

The push to get rid of all kapok-filled lifejackets continues. These lifejackets are unsafe and cause a person to sink. They should be replaced and destroyed.

Kapok is a plant fibre – it looks like cotton – and has not been used in lifejackets for at least 30 years because it can absorb water.

Even modern lifejackets eventually need replacing. Manufacturers say lifejackets last about 10 years, although it can be less depending on deterioration from sun, saltwater and how they have been cared for and stored.

“If you are replacing a lifejacket because it is too old for your family, then you are doing a good thing, but please do not sell it or give it away. It will be just as dangerous for other’s loved ones. Replace it and destroy it.”

Useful links for boaties

VHF radio – lots of information and watch the new ad

Coastguard Boating Education – learn all about boating

Lifejackets – what’s good and what’s not

Old4New Lifejacket Upgrade – where and when, all you need to know

Safer boating code

These five simple precautions apply to all boating:

  • Wear your lifejacket
  • Take two waterproof ways to call for help
  • Check the marine weather forecast
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Be a responsible skipper.

Some recreational boating numbers:

  • 1.5 million Kiwis were involved in recreational boating last summer
  • lifejacket wearing behaviour amongst recreational boaties is steady at about 75% wearing all or most of the time on the water
  • two-thirds of fatalities might have been avoided if lifejackets had been worn
  • only one in four (25%) take a marine VHF radio
  • in 59% of fatal boating accidents inadequate communications were on board (inadequate communications cannot be said to have caused the deaths but it was an added risk that makes rescue harder)

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