The Dangers of Distracted Boating in New Zealand

November 2023

Boating is one of the most popular recreational activities in New Zealand, with more than 1.5 million people taking to the water every year. Whether you are sailing, kayaking, jet skiing, or fishing, boating can be a fun and relaxing way to enjoy the natural beauty of our country.

However, boating also comes with its own risks and responsibilities. You need to be alert and attentive at all times while operating a boat, as any distraction can have serious consequences.

What is distracted boating?

Distracted boating is any activity that diverts your attention from the primary task of operating a boat safely. Some common examples of distracted boating are:

  • Texting, calling, or using social media on your phone or tablet
  • Livestreaming, taking selfies, or recording videos of your boating adventures
  • Fiddling with your GPS, radio, fish finder, or other electronics
  • Attending to your crew members, passengers, pets, or equipment
  • Eating, drinking, or smoking

These activities may seem harmless or even necessary at times, but they can take your eyes, hands, or mind off the water and reduce your situational awareness. This can make you miss important cues such as other boats, navigational markers, weather changes, or hazards.

Why is distracted boating dangerous?

Distracted boating is dangerous because it can lead to accidents, injuries, or fatalities. According to Maritime NZ, the most common factors contributing to deaths in recreational boating in New Zealand are:

  • Not wearing a lifejacket
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Bad weather
  • Operator error

Operator error means making a mistake or a poor decision while running a boat. Distracted boating can cause operator error by impairing your judgment, reaction time, or coordination. For example:

  • If you are texting while boating, you may not notice a wave or a wake that can knock you off balance or capsize your boat.
  • If you are livestreaming while boating, you may not hear a horn or a whistle from another boat that is trying to avoid a collision with you.
  • If you are fiddling with your electronics while boating, you may not see a rock or a reef that can damage your hull or propeller.
  • If you are attending to your crew while boating, you may not keep a proper lookout or follow the rules of the water.

These scenarios can result in damage to your boat or property, injury to yourself or others, or even death. In fact, Maritime NZ estimates that distracted boating is involved in about 25% of all recreational boating accidents.

How can you avoid distracted boating?

The best way to avoid distracted boating is to stay focused and vigilant while operating a boat. Here are some tips on how to do that:

  • Pick your selfie opportunities carefully and have someone else take the footage for you or use a mount. Don’t let your camera distract you from your surroundings and don’t pose in risky situations.
  • Set up your electronics before you head out and know how to use them without getting lost in menus or settings. Use them only when necessary and don’t rely on them too much. Remember that they can fail or give inaccurate information.
  • Throttle back and delegate tasks when you need to address an issue with your crew or equipment. Don’t try to multitask while moving at high speed or in busy areas. Ask for help if you need it.
  • Use alternative methods to anchor your boat when you need to text or make a phone call. For example, use a mooring buoy, a marina berth, or a beach landing. Don’t text while drifting or anchoring in open water.
  • Follow the Maritime NZ safety code and wear a lifejacket, carry two waterproof ways to call for help, check the marine weather forecast, avoid alcohol, and be a responsible skipper. These simple steps can save your life and make your boating experience more enjoyable.

Distracted boating is a serious issue that affects many boaties in New Zealand. It can cause accidents that can harm yourself, others, or the environment. By being aware and attentive while boating, you can prevent it and enjoy the water safely.