Boat safety

Tips for keeping safe on the water

  • Check the boat, engine and equipment before leaving.
  • Check the weather forecast and tides before leaving.
  • Tell someone where you're going and when you'll return.
  • Avoid alcohol when boating.
  • Never overload the boat.
  • Take a proper lifejacket for each person on board and wear them.
  • Have on board: anchor, bailer, spare fuel, torch, warm clothing or blankets.
  • Guard against fire.
  • Know the collision prevention rule, navigation safety rule and local bylaws.
  • Take two means of communication that work even when wet, such as VHJF radio, flares, 406 EPIRB, cellphone in a plastic bag.

For more advice visit the website of Maritime New Zealand

Five common distress signals.

Common distress signalling methods

The five common distress signals are:

  • Red paracute flare
  • Hand held red flare
  • Buoyant orange smoke
  • Raising and lowering of arms outstretched to each side
  • VHF channel 16


Prepare a marine disaster plan

Download a marine disaster plan template.

Every vessel needs a marine disaster plan.

Some vessels are required by law to have a marine disaster plan. Maritime New Zealand requires that every commercial vessel capable of carrying 50 or more passengers develops and keeps a disaster plan. This plan can be developed in consultation with Police and Maritime New Zealand.

It is impossible to devise an exact response plan for every disaster incident you can think of. So it is important to ensure that correct and comprehensive information is available for the vessel's master and the local search and rescue authorities.

A disaster plan for inshore shipping should include:

  • a comprehensive description of the vessel
  • what the vessel is
  • what her capabilities are
  • how many people she is carrying
  • a full communication list for the vessel herself
  • details of the owners or operators ashore.

The plan should also itemise what human resources are available and how they can be contacted in case they are needed to help the vessel should a disaster occur. An appendix also usually describes the Maritime New Zealand's Rescue Coordination Centre (RCCNZ)and what its responsibilities are.

Responsibilty for a maritime disaster response

The one person who has the ultimate legal responsibility for the initial response and preparedness is the vessel's own master/skipper. This responsibility should not be treated or taken lightly.

  • The master/skipper of a vessel (any vessel, of any size), regardless of whether or not it is for recreational or commercial purposes, has the lives of passengers and other people in their hands.
  • Any action or inaction by a master/skipper which results in the injury or death of any person may well result in criminal charges, even manslaughter.
  • The master/skipper of the vessel is responsible for ensuring that the vessel is prepared adequately and appropriately for any and every voyage.
  • The owner bears a similar and parallel responsibility and can also be held to account for their actions or lack of action.

Marine disasters are almost invariably the consequence of a chain of events. The removal of any one link will prevent the disaster occurring or at least mitigate the outcome. A good, well prepared disaster plan will be the very last link in that chain and the only chance to ensure that a disaster does not get worse simply because of a lack of planning.

Remember this plan should be a living document:

  • don't just prepare it and put it away
  • keep updating the information so it is always current
  • keep copies on the vessel and ashore.

Search and rescue

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ, managed by Maritime New Zealand) is responsible for initiating, coordinating and terminating search and rescue operations around New Zealand that involve (among other things) missing or distressed surface vessels. The RCCNZ area of responsibility stretches from the mid-Tasman sea to halfway to Chile and from Antarctica almost to the Equator. It includes Niue, Tonga, Samoa, Tokelau and the Cook Islands.

The 24 hour emergency telephone number for RCCNZ is 0508 472 269.

Search and rescue officers determine the area to be searched and then plan the search strategy. This is done alongside and in consultation with specialist police, aviation, defence force, marine and land search and rescue advisors.