Boating research

The latest figures and statistics on recreational boating in New Zealand.

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Research 2017

Recreational boating research conducted by Ipsos New Zealand

From April to May 2017 Ipsos surveyed 2,100 New Zealanders aged 18 and over regarding recreational boating. The research shows the Safer Boating Forum should continue to work on four key risk factors for recreational safety and encourage boaties to wear lifejackets, take waterproof communications, check the marine weather forecast, and avoid alcohol.

Ipsos infographics

Ipsos have prepared online interactive and print infographics to display the key results visually:

Interactive infographic

Print version infographic[PDF: 1.25MB, 10 pages]

For the first time the survey was conducted online, reflecting the declining use of landline phones and the now well-established methodology of online surveying. It should also be noted when comparing the 2016 and 2017 surveys that the 2016 survey followed one of New Zealand’s hottest summers on record, while the 2017 survey followed one of our worst summers.

Recreational boating research - 2017[PDF: 3.72MB, 35 pages]

Recreational boating research by eight councils and Maritime NZ

Initial results from a new multi-regional on-the-water survey show excellent compliance with lifejacket rules. The results show up to 93% of boaties were wearing lifejackets when they are required to. In addition, 96 percent were carrying enough lifejackets for everyone on board.

It was the broadest survey of its kind in New Zealand. It measured actual behavior observed on-the-water during summer 2016-17, and was based on surveys run by Waikato Regional Council. In previous national surveys boaties reported what they had done.

On-the-water survey - 2017[PDF: 144kB, 9 pages]

Fact sheets

Lifejackets - safer boating fact sheet[PDF: 25.3kB, 2 pages] Alcohol - safer boating fact sheet[PDF: 84.5kB, 2 pages] Communications - safer boating fact sheet[PDF: 23.1kB, 2 pages] Marine weather - safer boating fact sheet[PDF: 54.5kB, 2 pages]

Research 2016

Recreational Boating Research conducted by Research NZ

Between March and April 2016, Research NZ surveyed 1,500 New Zealanders aged 18 and over for this survey, with 765 (51%) reporting that they were some way involved in recreational boating. The purpose of this survey was to examine the extent to which New Zealand’s adult population currently participate in recreational boating activities, with a particular focus on their safety-related attitudes and behaviours and their awareness of Maritime New Zealand’s recent recreational boating safety campaign.

Recreational Boating Research Summary - 2016[PDF: 576kB, 18 pages]

Research 2014

Summary of research

Research commissioned by Maritime New Zealand from Research New Zealand shows nearly one in three (29%) New Zealanders aged 18 and over are involved in recreational boating. This adds up to approximately one million adult New Zealanders skippering or spending time on recreational vessels.

There are estimated to be more than 17 million individual boating activities each year.

Total number of recreational vessels in New Zealand

The total number of recreational vessels owned in New Zealand is currently estimated to be about 960,000, with more than half of these being kayaks/canoes and power boats less than 6 metres in length.

Kayaks/canoes are the most popular recreational vessel (with 10% of respondents saying they owned or used a kayak or canoe), followed by power boats under 6m (7%) and dinghies (6%).

Boaties in New Zealand


The largest proportion of New Zealand’s recreational boaties live in the upper North Island - 24% live in Auckland, 9% in Waikato, 7% in Bay of Plenty and 5% in Northland.

There are also relatively large numbers of recreational boaties in Wellington/Wairarapa (12%), Canterbury (11%) and Otago (9%).


Attitudes and behaviours

Almost all (96%) of recreational vessel users reported carrying lifejackets on board their vessels but only 72% said they carried enough or more than enough lifejackets for everyone on board whenever they went boating. This is despite 91% of those surveyed saying they thought it was very important to carry enough lifejackets on board for everyone.

The more passengers on board a boat, the less likely the skipper was to have enough lifejackets for everyone. Although 76% of recreational vessel users said they considered it very important for adults to wear lifejackets for the entire time they were on the water, a much smaller percentage (65%) said they did this every time they went out on their vessel.

Most people (96%) believed it Was very important to ensure that children wear lifejackets the entire time they are on the water.

Communications equipment

Nearly all recreational vessels users (98%) reported carrying at least one way to call for help.

Two-thirds of people surveyed said it was very important to carry at least two ways to call for help. However, only half (51%) said they actually carried two ways of calling for help every time they went out. And almost one-third (29%) said they never carried at least two ways to call for help when they went boating.

Proportion carrying two methods of communication

A cellphone in a waterproof bag was the most commonly carried communication device (56%), followed by flares (41%), a cellphone not in a plastic bag (29%), a distress beacon (27%) and a marine radio fixed to the vessel (26%).

Users of larger vessels were significantly more likely to carry at least two forms of communication than users of smaller vessels (81% of power boat users and 66% of sail boat users, compared with 37% of “other” vessel users and 20% of kayakers/canoeists).

Marine weather

The research found 73% of all recreational vessel users said it was very important to check the marine weather forecast before going out on the water. However, only 64% said they actually did this every time they went out.

Users of larger vessels were significantly more likely than users of smaller vessels to check the forecast every time they went out (87% of sail boat users and 81% of power boat users, compared with 55% of “other” vessel users and 44% of kayakers/canoeists).


More than three-quarters (76%) of people said they never consume alcohol while boating. The rate of people who abstain from alcohol was highest for kayakers and canoeists (90%) and lowest for users of powered vessels and sail boats (66% and 62%, respectively).

Almost the same proportion of survey respondents rated it important to avoid consuming alcohol before or during boating (72%). The rate varied according to the type of vessel used, with more kayakers and canoeists considering it extremely important to avoid alcohol than boaties in powered vessels and sail boats.

Related information:
Learn about our latest safety campaign and messages for recreational boaties.

Safety campaigns

Read about the events and initiatives supporting Maritime NZ’s safety campaigns and messages.

See all campaigns
A quick guide to skipper responsibilities.

Know how to operate safely

Know your responsibilities as a skipper and understand the boating rules.
Learn more