Before you go near the water, remember to ‘Prep, Check and Know’

A child stands by the water wearing a lifejacket

The Canterbury/Waitaha region is home to numerous and diverse waterways, from coastal areas through to braided rivers and inland lakes. Whether you're kayaking on the Waimakariri, jet skiing with friends, bay hopping by jet boat, fishing from a sailboat or paddleboarding off the beach, being safe is the key to having fun in/on Canterbury's waterways. 

Aotearoa is a nation of water lovers, with over 50 percent of the population estimated to be regular boaties — and 14 percent of those boaties live in Canterbury*. On a calm, clear day, it can be easy to forget that humans are not built for the water — the average person can only hold their breath for 30 to 90 seconds, and tires very easily in the water, particularly when fighting strong currents or undertows.

Complacency or over-confidence in/on the water can lead to significant harm.

"We love seeing the harbours, lakes, and rivers teaming with aquatic activity during the warm weather, but we also need to make sure that everyone is taking the time to do so safely," said Navigation Safety Officer John Kent.

Three biggest risk factors

Current research shows that three risk factors most likely to cause death and injury on the water are:

  • not wearing lifejackets
  • an inability to communicate when an accident happens
  • not checking forecasts to avoid boating in bad weather and sea/lake/river conditions.

Whatever your level of experience, we want you to remember three key things: before heading out on the water make sure you've prepped your vessel, checked your gear, and know the local rules.

Prep your vessel

Like your car, your vessels (including paddleboards and kayaks) need maintenance and an annual check. Are the bilges blocked? Is your bung 'bung'? Is there a hole in the hull? Is the fuel line leaky? Make sure your vessel is working as it should before you go on the water and that any problems are dealt with beforehand! Other things to check include:

  • electrical equipment and lighting are working
  • batteries are charged
  • paddles are in good condition, not damaged
  • cooling water is flowing to the engine
  • outboard, pull cord, kill switch, throttle and gear shift are working.

Check your gear

Make sure you have all your essential safety items onboard, namely:

  • One suitable, fitted lifejacket for each person onboard. In Canterbury, everyone onboard a vessel under six metres must always wear a lifejacket, even in calm conditions — you can still fall overboard, and it’s not easy to put on a lifejacket once you’re in the water! On larger vessels, there must be one suitable, fitted lifejacket for every person onboard.
  • Two waterproof ways to call for help, even if you’re in a kayak or you’re paddleboarding. These could include:
    • VHF radio (VHF is not reliable in the Waitaki Lakes district, so you will need two other ways to call for help.)
    • an EPIRB (emergency position-indicating radio beacon) or a PLB (personal locator beacon)
    • a cellphone (only if it’s in a waterproof bag, is charged, and you’re close to land)
    • flares (red hand-held flares are recommended).

"It’s also important to let someone back home know where you’re going and when to expect you back. Much better to have a plan in place and not have to use it than need one and not have it," said John.

Also make sure you have navigation equipment, such as a GPS, and emergency equipment, such as a spare onboard motor or oars, a throwline, a first aid kit, and fire extinguishers.

Know the local rules

Pay attention to the laws of the seas, lakes and rivers — both Mother Nature’s laws and human-made ones.

Cantabrians are 52 percent less likely than the national average to check the marine or rural weather forecast before heading out on the water*, sometimes resulting in preventable accidents and injuries.

If you’re in charge of a vessel (be it a powered one or a human-propelled one), it’s your responsibility to check the latest marine weather forecast (or rural forecast for lakes) and the local conditions.

Conditions can change very quickly on the water, so if there’s a storm looming or the conditions are set to deteriorate while you’re on the water, take this into consideration.

Identify your vessel

In Canterbury, a bylaw states that your boat (including jet skis) needs an identifying number on each side of the hull. The ID must be at least 90 millimetres high and be distinguishable to the naked eye from 50 metres away. It could be printed on a sticker from a sign shop or it could be painted on.

An ID number provides a starting point for locating the owners of any washed-up vessels, and also allows people to provide identification information to the Harbourmaster’s Office when they are reporting concerns with boating behaviour. 

The ID needs to be either the trailer rego number or a VHF callsign.

"At the Harbourmaster’s Office, we’re taking an education-first approach to this issue. Recently, we found an upturned jet ski near Motunau Island, sparking a full search and rescue operation. If the vessel had an ID number, we could have contacted the owner instantly and found out the vessel had just drifted away," John said. 

Non-powered vessels (measuring six metres or less), paddle craft, and vessels solely powered by oars (like kayaks and canoes) only need a contact name and phone number written somewhere on board.

*Maritime NZ survey, 2022 (Q2)