Skipper responsibility vital in fight against COVID-19

27 March 2020

Skippers of recreational vessels are urged to play their part in the fight against COVID-19 by staying home as the nation unites to beat the spread of the virus.

Reports that many people are still taking to the water to go recreational boating, swimming, fishing, surfing, kayaking or doing other non-essential activities – despite the Government’s clear message to stay home – are being irresponsible and putting lives at risk, says Keith Manch, Director of Maritime New Zealand.

“As the first weekend of the nation-wide lockdown approaches, we appreciate that many people will be looking to unwind from work and it may be tempting to get out on the water – but the simple message is please don’t.

“Under maritime rules, the skipper is always responsible for making sure everyone on board is safe on the water, and he or she is bound by law to make decisions that are in keeping with that principle,” he says. “That’s why it’s even more critical in our current environment of heightened risk that skippers continue to be responsible by choosing to stay home and not go out. Even if your house is a boat, the message is the same – stay put at your mooring – don’t go out.”

Mr Manch says any skipper who acts irresponsibly, or otherwise unnecessarily puts themselves or others on board at risk at any time – including during the current pandemic – faces potential enforcement action.

“In keeping with the Government’s measures to fight the spread of Coronavirus, and in support of the advice from our partners in the water safety sector, the strong message from the maritime safety regulator is that all recreational boating and other non-essential on-water activity must stop.”

Mr Manch says while Maritime NZ is continuing to maintain its essential core functions during the pandemic, including compliance and enforcement, search and rescue coordination and oil spill response, every non-essential movement on the water increases the chances of something going wrong, and puts lives at risk.

The organisation is also supporting harbour masters, Police and other essential agencies working on the water to protect New Zealanders against the spread of the virus.

“Maritime NZ will be continuing to investigate maritime incidents and accidents during this time, and won’t hesitate to follow up and take action where appropriate against any skipper found acting irresponsibly.

“If you go out on the water unnecessarily and get yourself into trouble, you also not only put your own life at risk, but also the lives of rescuers and emergency responders – and place everyone at greater risk of catching and spreading Covid-19. You will also be tying up valuable resources that might be needed for someone in greater need of help, including treatment for Coronavirus.”

In the meantime, Mr Manch says the home isolation period is a good opportunity for people to still increase their maritime knowledge and skills off the water, with online learning and other courses available, as well as activities for children, such as “building a toy boat’ competitions at home and other challenges.

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