Cheap but online boating bargains come at a price

A boatie who had bought a “tired” yacht for just $500 online has had the vessel restricted to use on Wellington harbour after threatening to sail to Westport without an engine, radio or safety equipment.

Another online shopper did the right thing in buying an emergency beacon (EPIRB – emergency position-indicating radio beacon) before heading out in his boat. However, because he failed to change the registration, valuable time in rescuing him was lost when he ran into trouble near Little Barrier Island on Sunday.

The Wellington yachtie bought an 8m yacht that had been sitting in the water unused in Evans Bay for five years.

A trial voyage to the entrance of Evans Bay (about 3km) reportedly took five hours because of the amount of marine growth on the hull and when an attempt was made to tack, the vessel almost ran aground because it was so slow to respond.

Concerns were raised by other boaties with the Police and harbourmaster, and a Maritime New Zealand Maritime Officer visited the yacht on Sunday night.

He found the vessel lacked a operational EPIRB, had no working radio or engine, and no charts, navigation equipment or navigation lights. There was no lifejacket on board and the distress flares had expired more than 10 years ago. The only means of communication the new owner had was a cellphone – but without any way of charging it.

As a result, Maritime NZ imposed conditions on the vessel restricting it to operating within Wellington harbour until it is declared seaworthy by a qualified boat builder, and has appropriate safety equipment and charts to make the voyage to Westport.

“Recreational boaties must ensure their vessels are seaworthy,” Maritime NZ deputy director Lindsay Sturt said. “Every recreational vessel must have someone who takes responsibility as skipper – and that means making sure their boat is fit for the purpose, as well as carrying the right safety equipment including enough lifejackets of the right type for everyone on board.”

Also on Sunday, a recreational fisherman activated an EPIRB he had bought online the week before – but he had not changed the registration details, as recommended by the seller.

The Rescue Coordination Centre NZ (RCCNZ) received the alert but had no location details – this can occur when a passing satellite receives the signal only briefly before its orbit takes it out of sight. That’s why registration is essential as it allows the RCCNZ to contact the registered emergency contact who is likely to know details of the trip.

Because registration had not been changed, RCCNZ contacted the seller, who luckily still had a cellphone number for the purchaser. Through that number, the Police were able to contact the new owner’s partner. The partner had already contacted Coastguard NZ concerned for the boatie who was out on his 7.5m boat near Little Barrier Island. Coastguard was able to use information from RCCNZ, Police and the partner, and found the boat had sunk and rescued the man – wearing his lifejacket – shaken but unharmed.

“Registering your beacon is a legal requirement and can reduce the time it takes to get rescued,” RCCNZ Search and Rescue mission coordinator Greg Johnston said. “If we can call an emergency contact we immediately get information on a planned trip, who is involved, and what equipment they may have.”