5 simple rules to help you stay safe while boating

Department of Conservation —  26/12/2022
📷: DOC

Each year a number of people are fatally injured and die while participating in recreational boating, an activity pursued for enjoyment, or for the benefit of friends or family. These accidents are tragic and even though they have their own unique set of circumstances there are some common factors across all of them that may have prevented the accidents from happening in the first place.

In a report from Maritime New Zealand, looking at fatal recreational boating accidents between the beginning of 2015 and the end of 2020, it was found that there were a total of 92 accidents, resulting in 98 deaths or persons missing and presumed dead… A sobering thought right!

AdventureSmart, managed by New Zealand Search and Rescue Council have put together a Boating Safety Code, which addresses the common factors attributed to fatal accidents. Here are 5 simple rules to help you stay safe while boating.

1) Lifejackets

Take them – wear them. Boats, especially ones under 6m in length, can sink very quickly. Wearing a life jacket increases your survival time in the water. 

Lifejackets are so important for safety on the water. But did you know there are different lifejackets designed for different conditions? Making sure you have the right lifejacket for the type of activity, location, and condition as well as making sure that children are fitted with the right type and sized lifejacket will make all-the-difference if you find yourself in unexpected trouble.

World’s End, Tennyson Inlet
📷Danica Stent

2 Communications

Mobile phones won’t always work so take two separate waterproof ways of communicating so search and rescue can help you if you get into difficulties. A distress beacon is always a good option!

Being able to communicate with the Coastguard from your vessel is vital, especially if you get into trouble. Because you’re surrounded by water, there is always a risk of your communications devices getting wet, so they need to be waterproof. Always have two different forms of communication – if one doesn’t work, you need a different back-up option.

📷: DOC

3 Marine weather

New Zealand’s weather can be highly unpredictable. Check the local marine weather forecast before you go and expect both weather and sea state changes.

There is a separate forecast just for marine weather. The conditions can change quickly on the water and being prepared for these changes is really important. MetService provides the marine forecast, which is typically quite different from the towns and cities forecast, even if the location you intend to boat in, is nearby.

📷: DOC

4 Avoid alcohol

Safe boating and alcohol do not mix. Things can change quickly on the water. You need to stay alert and aware.

Drinking alcohol can make seemingly simple tasks – like being able to remain balanced on a moving boat – much more difficult, because it deteriorates coordination and balance, decision making and the body’s ability to react. This puts you at an increased risk of falling, and if you fall into the water, it puts you at an increased risk of drowning, too.

Alcohol effects everyone differently, but no matter who you are, alcohol is directly absorbed into the blood stream and drinking it faster than your body can process it increases your blood alcohol levels. Even if you think you ‘feel fine’, increased blood alcohol weakens your airway protection reflexes, which means you’re more likely to inhale water quickly if you fall in, too. Alcohol in your bloodstream results in a decreased concentration of blood going to your brain and your muscles, which reduces your ability to hold your breath underwater, affects your muscle coordination and can impact your reaction time in the water, too.

5 Skipper responsibility

The skipper is responsible for the safety of everyone on board and for the safe operation of the boat. Stay within the limits of your vessel and your experience.

The skipper is the “captain” on a boat in the water, and in New Zealand that makes them responsible for the safety of everyone on board.

 a skipper should know before heading out.

Off the coast of Snares Islands
📷: Igor Debski

A message from Maritime NZ leading into Waitangi long weekend

Waitangi Weekend is historically popular for people in New Zealand to get out onto the water for a range of activities, ranging from paddle boarding to recreational boating and this year is no different.

People need to know the ways of the water before they leave the land. If you’re out on the water be vigilant, be aware and be responsible.

Forecasts for the long-weekend are varied across the motu, with some locations expecting to see fine conditions, while heavy rain and strong winds are likely in others. It is vital for water users to consider the risks before heading out, and there is nothing wrong with cancelling due to potentially risky conditions.

One response to 5 simple rules to help you stay safe while boating


    You have highlighted really very important safety points regarding boating. There are some other points that could be really helpful for readers or people who use to go for boating/jet skiing.

    1. Keep a proper lookout for other boats, swimmers, and obstacles.
    2. Don’t overload the boat.
    3. Operate the boat at a safe speed.
    4. Carry enough supplies, including food, water, and a first aid kit.

    I hope this helps