Recreational boating skippers can be prosecuted

Every recreational boat, no matter how big or small, has a skipper. The skipper is legally responsible for the safety of their boat and all on board, and can be prosecuted for breaching safety rules.

Maritime NZ Deputy Director and Chair of the Safer Boating Forum, Lindsay Sturt, said in one example the court ordered a skipper to pay $3,000 after he endangered four people in another boat.

The skipper’s was a larger recreational boat and, rather than take a longer route around them, he chose to go through a group of smaller boats from which people were fishing. He snagged one of the boats, forced it to cut its anchor line or risk being pulled under the water, and dragged it 30 metres almost capsizing it. Ten-year-old twins and their parents were onboard the smaller boat.

Another prosecution followed the tragic death of an old friend. Four men in their 60s who had known each other for many years went fishing in a dinghy after drinking alcohol, and continued to drink on board. They had only one lifejacket, no means of communication and no other safety equipment. The weather was at the limit of the dinghy’s capability and the boat capsized. One man died and the court ordered the skipper to pay $2,500.

“We make decisions to prosecute after considering the facts of each case, including the extent of harm and the importance of raising awareness about operating boats safely,” Mr Sturt said.

There are five key messages for safer boating.

  • Wear lifejackets, always. If someone falls overboard or a boat capsizes it is too late to put one on.
  • Take two waterproof ways to call for help. These can be beacons, cellphones in waterproof bags, VHF radio and flares.
  • Check the marine weather forecast and keep checking while you are out, using VHF channel 16 or NowCasting on channel 21–23. If in doubt, don’t go out.
  • Avoid alcohol – it impairs judgment and balance, increases the risk of hypothermia and reduces your survival time if you end up in the water.

“The overall message that holds all the advice and rules together is ‘be a responsible skipper’. Know the rules. Stay within the limits of your vessel and experience. Be considerate to others. Keep a lookout, stick to safe speeds and be patient, so that everyone can enjoy the water,” Mr Sturt said.

“A great way to know the basics is to do the Coastguard Boating Education Day Skipper course.”

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