Lifejackets are lifesavers

  • Research commissioned by Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) shows that people who wear lifejackets on the water are more likely to survive if something goes wrong.
  • Not wearing a lifejacket is the leading risk factor for boating fatalities. The other key risks are: not carrying communications, not checking the weather, and drinking alcohol.
  • Two-thirds of those who die in recreational boating accidents each year could have been saved had they been wearing a lifejacket. Source: NPBSF 2006
  • Men aged 40 plus are over-represented in recreational boating fatalities. Qualitative research suggests their “bulletproof” attitude to safety is the main issue. Source: IPSOS 2013
  • Everyone on board a boat less than 6 metres should wear a lifejacket at all times. Most accidents occur suddenly, with no warning – there may be no time to grab a lifejacket, and it is extremely difficult to put on a lifejacket in the water. Many boaties drown less than 200 metres from shore.

What the research shows
  •  MNZ figures show 14 people died in recreational boating accidents in New Zealand waters last year. By the end of November 2013, a further 12 people had died.
  • In research commissioned by MNZ, 88% of those who own and/or use recreational vessels said they carry enough lifejackets for all those on board (the rate varies, depending on the boat type). Source: Research NZ 2013
  • Only 70% of boaties say they wear a lifejacket at all times on the water. This rate is highest for kayakers and canoeists, and falls to just over 50% for people in power boats and sail boats. Source: Research NZ 2013
  • Qualitative research prepared for MNZ shows the key barriers to wearing a lifejacket are people’s confidence as a skipper and/or a swimmer, the perception of there being no risk, and feeling uncomfortable or uncool wearing a lifejacket. Source: IPSOS 2013

Recreational boaties who always wear a life jacket
By vessel type

  • People wear a lifejacket because the skipper or boat club insists; they are taught or given expert advice to do so; they feel safer wearing one or have one that fits comfortably; they know the risks of not wearing one; and/or they want to set an example to others, such as children.

What the law requires
  • Recreational boaties are legally required by maritime rules to carry enough correctly sized, serviceable lifejackets for everyone on board.
  • Maritime rules make it 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 and during an emergency.
  • Some regional council bylaws make the wearing of lifejackets compulsory on small craft.
  • A private member’s Bill has been introduced to Parliament by National MP Sam Lotu-liga to make lifejackets compulsory for all children aged under 15.

National Pleasure Boat Safety Forum and Maritime New Zealand position
  • The National Pleasure Boat Safety Forum and MNZ support the move to make lifejackets compulsory for all children aged under 15.
  • MNZ and the Forum also encourage everyone on the water to wear lifejackets at all times. This is aimed at reducing the number of boating fatalities and encouraging a behaviour change by boaties, to wear their lifejackets rather than just carrying them.
  • MNZ’s “Lifejackets for Life” advertising campaign, styled on TV cop shows from the 1980s, targets men and sends the deadly message that if boaties don’t wear a lifejacket they are risking their lives.

About the National Pleasure Boat Safety Forum

  • The National Pleasure Boat Safety Forum (NPBSF) is a network of government agencies, local body groups and marine industry associations and publications that promotes recreational boating safety in New Zealand.
  • In October 2013, the National Pleasure Boat Safety Forum joined national boating authorities from Australia, Canada, France and the United Kingdom as a safety partner to the International Lifejacket Wear Principles. These principles are aimed at promoting personal responsibility through wearing lifejackets in small vessels and making lifejackets a normal part of any media, publicity or advertising involving small boats.

Choosing a lifejacket
  • Lifejackets must meet New Zealand Standard (NZS) 5823: 1999, NZS 5823: 2001, NZS 5823: 2005, or another national or international standard substantially complying with the New Zealand standards. For more information about lifejackets, visit
  • It is essential to have the correct size and type of lifejacket for the person and boating activity. Lifejacket retailers can help with selecting the right lifejacket.
  • Some lifejackets provide more than flotation – they allow a person in the water to keep still and conserve their energy, which will help to delay the onset of hypothermia.
  • Crotch straps are recommended for lifejackets used in situations other than very calm water and are mandatory for all lifejackets worn by children.

Looking after lifejackets

  • Lifejackets should be worn – not stowed under seats or forward in the cabin – in case of a capsize or other emergency. When not in use, store lifejackets away from the sunlight. Ensure they are dry and clean and away from chemicals.
  • Inflatable lifejackets need to be checked and serviced regularly so that they will work when needed.

For more information, contact MNZ’s media line on 04 499 7318 or go to

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