Lifejackets

Lifejackets – a legal requirement

You must carry a correctly sized, serviceable lifejacket (also known as a personal flotation device or PFD) for each person on board a pleasure boat in New Zealand. This is a legal requirement, and this rule applies to all boats, including tenders and larger craft.

Regional council bylaws

Check your local regional council bylaws for the requirements that apply in the waters in your part of New Zealand. Some bylaws go further than maritime rules, making the wearing of lifejackets compulsory for all on board small craft.
View regional information

Skipper responsibility

Maritime rules provide that it is the skipper's legal responsibility to ensure that lifejackets are worn in situations of heightened risk, such as when crossing a bar, in rough water, during an emergency, and by non-swimmers. Lifejackets must be stored so that they are immediately available in case of a sudden emergency or capsize. Children should wear lifejackets at all times in boats under 6 metres.

Why wear a lifejacket?

Most drownings in boating accidents involve craft under 6 metres. All on board boats under 6 metres should wear a lifejacket, unless the skipper has assessed this is not necessary, due to the low risk at the time (but we recommend that non-swimmers and children wear lifejackets at all times).

Most accidents occur suddenly with no warning. There may be no time to grab a lifejacket unless it is close at hand, and it is extremely difficult or impossible to put on a lifejacket securely in the water.

Some lifejackets provide more than flotation. They allow a person in the water to keep still, thereby conserving energy, which will help to delay the onset of hypothermia. The body loses heat through water three times faster than out of the water. Closed foam-type PFDs also provide protection thermal protection on cold days or prevention from injury in collisions.

Read survive in cold water for techniques that can improve your survival chances in the water.

Lifejacket standards

Lifejackets must meet New Zealand Standard (NZS) 5823: 1999, NZ S5823: 2001, or NZS 5823: 2005 – specification for buoyancy aids and marine safety harnesses and lines – or another national standard substantially complying with the New Zealand standards. These include US, Australian, European and ISO standards. If you’re looking at buying a new PFD or lifejacket, there’s now a vast array to choose from on the international market.

The right type of lifejacket

It is important to have the right type of lifejacket. Consider the type of boating you do, the distance from shore you intend to go, and the kind of conditions you are likely to encounter. Your lifejacket retailer should be able to help you choose the type most suited to your needs.

Lifejackets provide more than flotation. They allow a person in the water to keep still, thereby conserving energy, which will help to delay the onset of hypothermia. They also provide protection from injury in collisions, or when running aground.

Go to the section Types of lifejackets and PFDs

Watch our clips for an overview on choosing a lifejacket

Lifejackets:choosing the right one to wear [MNZ's Boatsafetyinnz YouTube channel]

Get on board with children's lifejackets [MNZ's Boatsafetyinnz YouTube channel]

Storage and maintenance

Store your lifejacket away from the sunlight. Ensure it is dry and clean and away from chemicals. Check your lifejacket before re-use and make sure that it is still the correct size (especially for children). Inflatable lifejackets need to be checked and serviced regularly. On a boat, they must be stored so that they are immediately available in case of a sudden emergency or capsize.

More information

For more information about lifejackets you can:

Water Safety New Zealand Inc [Water Safety New Zealand]

Coastguard [Royal New Zealand Coastguard Federation]