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Get shipshape before heading to water - MNZ

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Labour Weekend is coming up - and boaties everywhere will start heading for the water.

Now is the time for boat owners and skippers to ensure their boats, gear - and skills - are up to scratch, says Jim Lilley, Maritime New Zealand's Acting Manager Recreational Boating.

"We've reviewed many tragic accidents over the years, and we know that things can very suddenly go wrong when out on the water, regardless of a skipper's level of skill or experience. If you are well prepared and make sensible choices, it can mean the difference between life and death."

Jim says recreational boating deaths for 2011 stood at nine by 31 July. Major factors continue to be failing to wear lifejackets, not checking the weather, not carrying reliable communications, alcohol and speed.

"Each boating tragedy shows just how important it is for all boaties to be prepared for the worst," says Jim. "Trouble can hit without warning. In an emergency, finding your lifejacket and putting it on is sometimes impossible.

"To be safe, wear your lifejacket and have a reliable way of calling for help at your fingertips, such as a marine VHF radio or a distress beacon (PLB or EPIRB) clipped to you or to your lifejacket. A cellphone is useful as a back-up - as long as it's in a sealed plastic bag."

Jim says last year's total of 14 recreational boating deaths was a significant improvement on 24 in 2009, but is still 14 people too many.

"That is still 14 families that have lost loved ones," says Jim. "There are plenty of easy, commonsense things boaties can do to prevent that. Check the marine weather forecast before you go out; watch your speed and stay off the booze until you get home - it will all help ensure you come home safe to your family."

Jim says the other key area for boat owners to focus on is ensuring their vessels are working properly before taking to the water. "And make sure that any safety equipment - such as lifejackets or PFDs (personal flotation devices) and communications equipment - is well maintained and in good working order," he says.

"If you're taking the boat out for the first time after winter, or using it frequently, regular checks are the only way you will have trouble-free boating. Make sure your boat is well maintained and equipped, and know how and when to use your equipment - it will all help you stay safe."

Improve your skills in bite-size chunks

Short videos with key safety messages are now readily available on YouTube. The clips from Maritime New Zealand's DVD Boat Safety in New Zealand are already proving a hit with boaties.

"Most popular so far are clips on navigation lights, rules of the road (on the water), VHF radio, rules around big ships, launching and retrieving your boat, and buoys and beacons," says Jim Lilley.

"People can access this wealth of safety information from their computers, tablets and cellphones - dipping in and out to look at the clips most relevant to them."

Information is also available about each region, with some modules currently under construction. Wellington and Canterbury regional councils have already embedded it on their websites and there has been interest in the clips from around the world.

"We have 34 modules up, and it's evolving all the time," says Jim Lilley. "Sign up as a subscriber or friend and receive alerts when anything new is added to the MNZ area."

To visit, go to

Get ready for summer boating

Get your engine serviced. Schedule an annual service and make regular visual checks.

Change your fuel. If your boat has been out of the water for a while, replace old fuel with clean, fresh fuel. Never assume your trip will run according to plan - always plan to use a third of your fuel for the trip out, a third for the trip back, and have a third in reserve for anything unexpected.

Give your boat a good once-over. Start in one place and work your way around the boat, checking everything, inside and out, to make sure everything is in good working order. If you find anything damaged or worn, repair it properly or replace it.

Check your lifejackets. Are the lifejackets still the correct size (especially for children) and in good condition? A crotch strap is recommended for all lifejackets, especially children's, and can easily be retrofitted. Are your lifejackets suitable for the type of boating you do? If you have an inflatable lifejacket, make sure it's checked and serviced, and regularly check that the gas cylinder is properly secured and not corroded. Remember: lifejackets are only useful when worn!

Check your equipment. Make sure all the equipment on your boat is in good working order and you have everything you need. Check expiry dates on flares and fire extinguishers, and replace them if they're out of date. Have the boat's battery professionally checked so that it will be able to operate all electric equipment and have enough strength to start the motor. After lying idle over winter, batteries can give a start or two before failing completely. Check and replace batteries on portable equipment such as torches, radios and your GPS. Make sure your distress beacon's registration is up to date.

Think about your emergency plan. Look at where your safety equipment is stored. Can you access it easily in an emergency or after a capsize? Put together a floating 'grab bag' that contains all the emergency gear you will need if your boat capsizes.

Make sure that someone else knows how to operate the boat if the skipper can't. Before you go out, brief your crew or passengers on what to do if things go wrong, and practise different scenarios - be mentally prepared for the unexpected.

Stay safe on the water

Wear your lifejacket or PFD. Maritime law requires ALL skippers to carry enough lifejackets of the right size for everyone on board. Lifejackets must also be worn in any situation where there is an increased risk to safety.*

Check the marine weather forecast before you go. And keep checking the forecast while you are out, using VHF channel 16 or NowCasting on channel 21-23. If in doubt, don't go out.

Carry at least two reliable forms of marine communication that will work when wet. A distress beacon (EPIRB or PLB) and a handheld, waterproof marine VHF radio are the most reliable. Flares (red handheld, orange smoke and red parachute or rocket) are a useful way to signal you need help. Don't reply on a cellphone as your only form of communication. But if you carry one, keep it inside a resealable plastic bag.

Don't go overboard on alcohol. Alcohol impairs judgement and balance, and its effects are exaggerated on the water. Drinking alcohol increases the risk of hypothermia and will reduce your survival time if you end up in the water.

Make a trip report. Let someone responsible know where you're going and when you expect to be back.

Be considerate to other water users. Keep a lookout, stick to safe speeds and be patient, so that everyone can enjoy the water.

*Some regions also have bylaws in place making it compulsory for lifejackets to be worn in certain circumstances, so check with your regional council.


Maritime New Zealand is a Crown entity whose mission is to lead and support the maritime community to take responsibility for ensuring our seas are safe, secure and clean. Our primary roles are to make life at sea safer, protect the maritime environment from pollution, ensure New Zealand ports and ships are secure, and provide a professional 24/7 search and rescue coordination service.

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