Maritime NZ: 6-year review of recreational boating fatalities released

18 October 2021

18 October 2021 The importance of wearing a lifejacket on a boat and planning for the unexpected has been highlighted in a report evaluating the key contributing factors into 92 recreational boating accidents between January 2015 and December 2020.

The accidents claimed 98 lives between them.

The report released by Maritime New Zealand catalogues a significant number of on-water fatalities, many of which were preventable.

Sharyn Forsyth, Maritime NZ Deputy Director and Chair of the Safer Boating Forum, says the report makes for sombre reading.

“Each year a number of people die while participating in recreational boating, an activity pursued for enjoyment, or for the benefit of friends or family.

“The tragedy at the Manukau Bar with the loss of three lives over the weekend is a horrific lead-in to Safer Boating Week, which runs this week.

“We had hoped these lives could have been saved. Our heartfelt sympathies are with the families of those lost.

“Each accident is tragic and has its own unique set of circumstances, but the common factors across these accidents can help highlight ways that similar incidents may be prevented in the future.”

The report found a majority of those who died in recreational boating accidents died from drowning after they ended up in the water from either falling overboard, or the vessel capsizing or being swamped (filling with water).

The highest number of accidents occurred on small power boats, small powered and unpowered dinghies or inflatable boats.

Most recreational boating accidents happened suddenly, and people were in the water before they had time to use emergency equipment that was not already being worn.

“35 people died after falling overboard from a vessel that remained upright and floating. These deaths are likely preventable if the deceased was wearing a lifejacket.

“Behind each death is someone’s whānau and friends, who unfortunately never had an opportunity to farewell their loved ones.

“We owe it to their families and friends to understand these circumstances to ensure we can do all we can to prevent senseless deaths on the water,” says Ms Forsyth.

Maritime NZ will use the information to help inform New Zealand’s Recreational Craft Safety Strategy. It will also support the work of non-government organisations who focus on water safety and share our aim to prevent recreational boating deaths on the water.

Recreational Boating Fatality Report – 2015-2020 [PDF: 3.3MB, 63 pages]

The report found:

  • 92 recreational boating accidents resulted in 98 deaths or persons missing or presumed dead. The key causes are:
    • Accidents occurring suddenly and often without warning
    • Multiple people entering the water unexpectedly in challenging conditions
    • People falling overboard while alone on the vessel
    • No way to call for help
    • A lifejacket available but not worn, or improperly used
  • Most accidents occurred on inland waters or coastal waters less than two kilometres from shore.
  • The victims of these accidents are overwhelmingly male, and primarily over the age of 45.

Both Maori and Pacific people are over represented compared to their participation numbers, with Maori victims making up 16% of fatalities (v 12% of participation), and Pacific victims making up 10% of fatalities (v 3% of participation).

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