Leisure – Call to make wearing life jacket compulsory

The introduction of standardised national regulations will enable sector agencies to provide consistent messaging and turn boating fatalities into survivals.

Life Jackets save lives – so why are they not compulsory on all small boats?

To avoid a repeat of last year’s drowning statistics, Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) is calling on Government to make urgent changes to regulations requiring everyone on small boats to wear a life jacket. Of 90 drowning fatalities last year, 19 were boating related. And five-year figures reveal that two-thirds of all small-boat drownings were in people not wearing life jackets.

Daniel Gerrard, WSNZ Chief Executive, said: “Like seat belts, life jackets save lives. We are the agency responsible for coordinating our water safety organisations, and the sector is critical of inconsistent, poorly applied life jacket guidelines. Ten-year data confirm that 70 percent of fatal drownings involved boaties not wearing life jackets – fatalities preventable through an enforceable, national standard for life jacket use.”

Gerrard confirms that WSNZ has requested Michael Wood, Minister of Transport, to urgently implement a national standard for life jacket use before this summer. “It could be as simple as requiring all persons on recreational vessels of six metres or less in length, to wear a personal flotation device at all times,” Gerrard said.

“Currently, each skipper is legally required to carry a correctly sized life jacket for each person on board with responsibility for their use in situations of heightened risk. However, this regulation is subject to regional interpretation.

“New Zealanders are confused by existing life jacket requirements, and it’s time for the Government to help us all resolve these inconsistencies. The introduction of standardised national regulations will enable sector agencies to provide consistent messaging and turn boating fatalities into survivals. We have a collective obligation to mitigate New Zealand’s alarming drowning rate and research confirms that life jacket use is an achievable step in this direction.”

About Water Safety New Zealand

New Zealand has a high fatal drowning rate compared to other Western nations such as Australia, Canada and the UK. For the past 10 years our rate has been 1.7 per 100,000 of population and in 2021 is 1.8. In comparison, Australia’s per capita rate is 1.1 and Canada’s 1.3. Each fatality comes with a human and financial cost. It’s a life cut-short – often a young life – and it leaves families and communities devastated.

Our drowning toll is something every New Zealander should see as a national disgrace and one we all have a responsibility to address.

Through our leadership, advocacy and education, Water Safety New Zealand works with water safety sector organisations, individuals and the public to reduce the incidence of drowning and injury in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Our work contributes to the reduction in drownings and to a thriving society for individuals, families and communities.

Water Safety New Zealand is an association of members in the water safety sector with an elected board and recruited management and administration team. It is an incorporated society, with charitable status.

Its operating budget is funded by Sport New Zealand and ACC, while Lotteries Grants funding, via Sport New Zealand, funds water safety providers through the Water Safety New Zealand annual investment round. Funding from corporates, trusts and foundations also supports community initiatives and programmes.

Donations made to Water Safety New Zealand receive tax credits and our Charities Services registration number is CC33799.