Getting out on the water is one of the great Kiwi pastimes, especially in summer. But each year boaties die in accidents that could have been prevented. A little preparation, the adoption of sound boating practices and some good equipment are all it takes to stay safe on the water and dramatically improve your chances of coming home alive.

Who’s the Boss?

By law, every vessel, no matter what size, must have a skipper. The skipper is in charge of the boat and controls where and how it is sailed. Both the safety of other people onboard and compliance with relevant maritime rules and regulations are the skipper’s responsibility.

Placing a single person in charge of the boat helps foster clear lines of communication, and quick action in times of emergency.


So necessary, but sometimes so tragically neglected. It is estimated that over half the boat-related drownings each year could be avoided if suitable lifejackets were worn.

Everyone in the boat must have a life jacket which meets a standard accepted by Maritime NZ. In a boat less than 6 metres these life jackets must be worn all the time. If the skipper judges conditions to be exceptionally safe they maybe removed, but why take the chance? Accidents and emergencies usually occur without warning.

If you are allowed to remove your lifejacket, it must be stowed somewhere that enables you to reach it without delay.


Communication is another lifesaver. The ability to contact help in an emergency can mean the difference between life and death. Carry at least two forms of waterproof communication with you on every boating trip. At least one of these should be a waterproof, hand-held marine VHF radio. Ensure it can receive and broadcast on the distress channel (Channel 16).

Other forms of communication include:

  • A cell phone sealed inside a watertight plastic bag. This must, very definitely, not be your main form of communication.
  • Flares.
  • A fixed VHF marine radio.

Trip Report

Filing a trip report over your VHF radio with Maritime NZ radio or the coastguard means that someone knows where you’re going and how long you should be away from land. If you run into difficulties and can’t make it back on time an alert will be raised.

Another good idea is to fill out a 2 Minute Form (available here). This is a simple form that lists information such as your planned route, the names and number of the boat’s occupants, and a description of your boat and its safety gear. Fill this out and leave it with a friend or family member. It will provide vital information for rescuers if you fail to return.

Get a Forecast

Weather over water can change frighteningly quickly. Always get the latest forecast for the appropriate area before sailing and make sure it’s a marine forecast – the weather report on the news the night before is completely inadequate as it does not take into account any of the many factors which influence conditions on the water.

Follow the golden rule: if you are in any doubt at all about the condition of the weather – don’t go out.

You Booze, You Lose

You’re on a boat. You’re vulnerable. You can suffer any of a thousand mishaps. Do you really want to impair your judgement and coordination? Do you really want to slash your chances of survival should you end up in the water?

If you’re in charge of a boat, or are tasked with performing any duties onboard, don’t drink. Your life and those of the other occupants are at risk. And if you’re just a passenger, you’ll also be far safer if you wait until you get back to shore to crack open that cold one.

Safety Check

Check your vessel and all your equipment before you head out. Ensure your motor is fully serviced and in perfect working order and that you have a second means of motive power such as an auxiliary outboard motor. Make sure you have more than enough fuel for the journey and that any batteries are fully charged or that you have spares. Prepare for mishaps by carrying food, water, a first aid kit and other survival-useful items like torches, knives, rope and a fire extinguisher.

Don’t Become a Statistic

It’s the precautions you take before you set out in your boat that give you the greatest chance of returning home safely. Spend the time and spend the money. Those dollars you saved by not buying a second radio won’t seem like much of a saving to a grieving wife and kids.

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