Foresight vital in water safety

Three boating disasters around the North Island this month, one of which led to the drowning of two fishermen off the coast of Auckland, are a reminder to Marlborough Sounds boat owners to be safe ahead of the busy summer season, Marlborough harbour master Alex van Wijngaarden says.

The worst incident involved two fishermen, who were not wearing lifejackets, who died after falling into the ocean with five others when their overloaded boat capsized after being hit by a wave west of Waiheke Island on November 18.

A few days earlier four occupants of a 4.7-metre runabout that broke down off the northern end of Kapiti Island had only a cellphone to contact police with. Their auxiliary engine was working only intermittently and all four donned lifejackets once the main engine failed.

On November 9, two men suffered hypothermia after spending 12 hours drifting to shore on their upturned four-metre boat after it capsized five kilometres off the coast of Taranaki. The pair were wearing lifejackets, but did not have an emergency position-indicating beacon or a waterproof marine VHF radio to call for help.

Mr van Wijngaarden said the incidents served as reminders to people to be safe when heading into the Marlborough Sounds over summer.

"Wear lifejackets and make sure your engines are serviced before you take off, because you don't want to get stuck out in the Sounds.

"People should remember to keep their speed to five knots when they are within 200 metres of the shoreline."

Skippers needed to keep aware of other boats and ships, they needed to keep a good look out and remember to give way to ferries, Mr van Wijngaarden said.

"And don't drink [alcohol] on boats. Stability is a big issue on the smaller [tin] boats."

Maritime New Zealand safety inspector Alistair Thomson said the incidents highlighted simple safety guidelines that should be followed.

"A distress beacon and a handheld marine VHF radio are the most reliable forms of emergency communication, while flares can also be useful if you need help."

Cellphones shouldn't be relied on as the main means of communication because of issues with coverage on seas, rivers and lakes, Mr Thomson said.

"They are useful as a backup but become useless when wet. Most boaties take their cellphones with them, but they should take the extra step of putting them in a ziplock bag."

Boats left unused for a long time also need to be checked carefully before use, Mr Thomson said.

"If a boat has not been used for some time, old fuel should be replaced and there should be enough fuel to cover unforeseen occurrences.

"It pays to plan to use a third of your fuel for the trip out, a third for the return trip and have a third in reserve."

Boating enthusiasts were legally required to carry enough lifejackets, of the correct size and type, for everyone on board and the maritime authority recommended that lifejackets be worn at all times.

Equipment on board should also be checked regularly, including the condition of lifejackets.

"Before deciding to head out, boaties should also check weather forecasts and tell someone how long they plan to be away."

Click through to read the council's Safe Boating brochure

The Marlborough Express