The latest boating research shows 40% of boaties take two waterproof ways to call for help every time and a further 16% most of the time they go on the water, but that means 44% still don’t.

To put that into perspective Maritime NZ’s annual Ipsos survey, released this week, estimates 1.53 million Kiwis are involved in recreational boating.

According to the research, key risk factors for recreational boaties are:

  • failure to wear lifejackets all the time;
  • inability to communicate for help when an accident happens;
  • failure to check the weather forecast before going out; and
  • alcohol use.

Rescue Coordination Centre NZ Manager, Mike Hill, said we cannot say for certain that inadequate communications cost those boaties their lives, but it did make it much harder to search for them and rescue them.

In coastal waters, a marine VHF radio is usually boaties’ best first choice, with a distress beacon as a back-up – that could be a specialised, marine “EPIRB” beacon or a smaller, waterproof, personal locator beacon (known as a PLB).

VHFs can be used by anyone in an emergency but you need an operator’s certificate to use one at other times. Coastguard Boating Education offers an on-line operator’s certificate course which allows people to legally use a VHF radio. Approximately 3,000 people complete the course each year.

General Manager of Coastguard Boating Education, Mike Brown, said that the number of people getting the certificate does not reflect the number of new boaties taking to the water each year.

If you have a VHF radio you should know how to use it and not wait till there is an emergency because that’s too late,

...he said.

The advantage of a VHF radio over a phone is that when you use it, you are broadcasting to everyone on the network.

On a phone you’re just contacting one person. If someone on your boat has chest pains while you’re in a bay, there might be people in other boats who are doctors or nurses or paramedics and who can be with you in minutes. They won’t know that if you only have a phone, yet they might hear your call on a VHF radio,

...he explained.

Additionally, all boaties who are crossing a bar are strongly encouraged to call Coastguard on *500 or VHF Channel 16 and complete a Bar Crossing Report.

This means that if anything goes wrong Coastguard knows where they are and can send help if it’s needed.

A bar crossing report is the only fail safe way for boaties to know someone has their back if they get into trouble.

During Safer Boating Week, leading up to Labour Weekend when many boaties are getting ready to go back on the water, the Safer Boating Forum is encouraging people to think about how prepared they would be if they got into trouble.