Maritime New Zealand report highlights recreational boating accidents between 2015 and 2020

Each year a number of people die while participating in recreational boating, an activity pursued for enjoyment, or for the benefit of friends or family. Each accident is tragic and has its own unique set of circumstances, but the common factors across these accidents can help highlight ways that similar deaths may be prevented in the future.

This report is intended to give an overview of fatal recreational boating accidents between the beginning of 2015 and the end of 2020, and to provide additional insight into a number of key characteristics and identified patterns.

This six-year time period provided a total of 92 accidents resulting in 98 deaths or persons missing and presumed dead. The analysis focuses primarily on characteristics that have sound supporting data. This means that data on some of the Safer Boating Forum’s key safety messages are not presented. Lifejacket and alcohol use however play a key role.

Analysis of this data shows that recreational boating deaths have fluctuated year-on-year, but show a relatively stable trend of 16 to 17 deaths per year over both a ten-year period and the six-year period of this report.

The highest number of accidents occurred on small powerboats and small powered and unpowered dinghies or inflatable boats. Most accidents occurred on inland waters or coastal waters less than 1nm from shore. The victims of these accidents are overwhelmingly male, and primarily over the age of 45.

These accidents occurred across the country with rates generally in line with the participation in that region. Auckland and Waikato however had a lower accident rate than its participation would suggest, whereas Southland had a higher rate.

A majority of those who died in recreational boating accidents died from drowning after they ended up in the water from either falling overboard or the vessel capsizing or being swamped. A smaller number of people were killed in traumatic accidents, either from high-speed groundings or allisions or from collisions between vessels and people in or on the water. Very few accidents were caused by a vessel striking another vessel.

Most of the accidents that resulted in people in the water happened suddenly, without time to use emergency equipment that was not already being worn on their person. A majority of those who died were not able to call for help, and a significant number were not wearing lifejackets. A challenging sea state or other moving water played a role in a majority of these accidents, which also contributed to their sudden nature, and likely played a role in reducing the likelihood of survival even for those who were wearing a lifejacket. Some of these accidents occurred in known hazardous areas such as bar
crossings, but a significant number occurred along the coast less than 1nm from shore, or in the case of overboard accidents often in sheltered waters.

While some clear risk groups were identified, common themes were identified across a majority of the accidents, these were:
1. Accidents occurring suddenly and often without warning
2. Multiple people entering the water unexpectedly in challenging conditions
3. People falling overboard while alone on the vessel
4. No way to call for help
5. A lifejacket available but not worn, or a lifejacket that was improperly used

Download the full report: Maritime New Zealand Accident Report 2015 - 2020

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