Feb 17 2021 All Articles

​Family friendly boating in New Zealand

Family friendly boating in New Zealand

Many kiwis have a childhood boating-related memory. Whether that’s biscuiting, fishing, exploring, or simply cruising with family, or a friend’s family. Pleasure boating is part of life for many New Zealanders, regardless of whether your family owns a boat. Such is life in an island nation.


Given all that boating, it’s not surprising that an essential guide to safe boating exists and that safe boating classes are available throughout the country. Yes, a desire for fun is the main driver when it comes to family boating excursions, but the experience is all the better, of course, if we know all the safety measures are in place.

Equip yourself with knowledge around the New Zealand Boating Safety Code before steering your boat towards our seas, lakes, rivers and sounds.

If you’re going to take time to read anything, then digest the five main safety tips that feature right at the start of the safe boating guide. None of it is rocket science, but it is concerning how not all boaties adhere to these.

Here’s some of that shared information around safe boating for your family:

  • Life jackets – take them, wear them (and increase your survival time in the water)
  • Skipper responsibility – skippers are reminded to stay within the limits of their vessel and their experience. They are responsible for all on board
  • Communications – Take two, separate, water-proof ways of communicating in case help is needed
  • Marine weather - Check the local marine weather forecast before you go and expect both weather and sea state changes
  • Avoid alcohol – Safe boating and alcohol do not mix. Alcohol impairs alertness and awareness.

Consider this comprehensive guide your go-to boat safety bible. It delivers information on getting the basics right, voyage preparation, boating activities, operating the boat, and safety on the water. The later category includes a whole raft of things from navigation, river bars, distress signals, preventing injuries on boats, charts, rules of the ‘road’ on the water. It provides answers to questions you may have around all sorts of specific craft and activities, such as jet skis, board sailing, paddle boards, kayaks, dinghies, water skiing, diving, and towing.

Boats and young children get a specific mention too. Children do, of course, need extra care aboard the boat and around water. Here are some points to consider:

  • Children should wear life jackets at all times. These should fit properly and include a crotch strap. An adult-sized life jacket will not do
  • Consider using safety harnesses - available for toddlers and young children, to prevent them from falling overboard. The harness should have a quick release system in case of emergencies
  • Teach children about the dangers and risks of boating
  • Work through an emergency plan for all those on board – taking into account situations like person overboard, fire, engine failure, or sinking. Panic kills, so let your children become familiar, through practice, with emergency procedures
  • Don’t go out boating alone with young children. Have another adult on board who can cope if something happens to you
  • Ensure everyone is sitting safely and holding on when travelling
  • Make sure those supervising young children on the water know how to swim and are familiar with survival techniques
  • Remember that alcohol and boats and children do not mix.

If you plan to take children boating, it is your responsibility to ensure they have the appropriate survival skills. Make sure they learn to swim and teach them boating skills and survival techniques in the water. How about signing them up to a Safe Boating Programm?. The programme includes in-water survival techniques, essential safety equipment (e.g correct lifejacket selection and fitting), the importance of communications, and taking responsibility for personal safety. See here for more.

As outlined on The Fishing Website, The NZ Water Safety Council endorses these tips above and includes some more:

  • During rough weather put children in the cabin. They should have their lifejackets on as normal
  • Travel at a safe and comfortable speed
  • Jolting and rolling can throw a child off balance and even into the water. Endeavour to keep the ride smooth
  • Unless you have sufficient adult support, refrain from going into unfamiliar territory as all your attention will be required for safe passage, greatly diminishing your ability to look after others. Do not take children if you have any doubts about any aspect of your trip
  • If you are letting your children go out with someone else, make sure the person is experienced and capable enough to do the right thing in an emergency. Check that the boat is seaworthy and has the proper safety equipment. Note where they are going and when they will be due back
  • Include additional flotation, such as flotation cushions and lifebuoys in case of a child overboard
  • Ensure your boat has handholds at child height as well as adult height if children are regular visitors on your boat.

Baby on board

Yes, lifejackets for the really little people exist too. Jessica Loyd-Mostyn and husband James know this – their toddler has spent a lot of time in one. This British family (berthed in NZ for the 2020-2021 summer) live onboard their boat. See how they manage with a baby on board

Teenagers in charge of boats?

Of course, the enjoyment of commanding a boat can be infectious. It may not be long before one of your children asks to be in charge. How old is old enough? There are rules around this. Basically, the minimum age for being in charge of a power boat capable of 10 knots or more is 15 years of age. This includes jet skis and dinghies too.

Those under 15 can operate the boat if an adult remains within reach of the controls. Remember children look to adults for examples of appropriate behaviour, so set a good example in all aspects of boating (from wearing life jackets to no alcohol on board).

Getting your boating license is a rite of passage for young mariners. Contact your local law enforcement agency for a schedule of available boating classes and encourage your child to attend with a friend, or even a parent.

Discover Boating provides some tips for bonding on (and off) the boat. One piece of advice is to involve your children in the complete process of boating. When they’re of age, teach them to back the trailer down the launch ramp and involve them in the post-excursion boat wash.

Reluctant boaties

Have a child who isn’t feeling the boatie love? It does happen. The Better Boat website has dedicated a whole article to it, including 15 tips to make boating fun for reluctant kids. This includes, inviting a friend along, ordering pizza to dock, taking along a big tube, getting an inflatable slide for boat-to-water fun, directing the boat to a beach for a picnic, taking a fishing rod along, assigning them to video any boating action, taking along a remote-controlled boat, getting them a wetsuit…

Buying a family fishing boat

Read about this Bay of Plenty family who decided purchasing a boat would lead to new family adventures to get them out of the house and together more. There were differing views on the boat “must haves” but a trip to the Hutchwilco NZ Boat Show sorted that out. See their story here.

The Bradfords’ story include some tips for fun family time on the water.  As well as including some of those already mentioned above, their advice includes:

  1. Kids (and sometimes adults on board) don’t necessary want to catch the biggest fish or the most sought-after species, they want action. Kahawai, koheru, cod and jack mackerel will keep the younger set engaged. It is not all about kingfish and snapper. This is their time to shine, not yours
  2. Go prepared for boredom – the kids, not yours. Take activities, such as books, cards or even the iPad, to keep the younger crew members occupied when the fish aren’t on the chew
  3. Make the day on the water fun, not a marathon. When your crew has had enough, go home
  4. Break the day up – try a little trolling, bait or lure fishing. Tow the sea biscuit, pull into a bay for a swim or go ashore onto the sand for a picnic
  5. As the kids’ (or a partner’s) confidence grows, teach them boating basics, including how to operate the VHF or who to call in an emergency. Have Coastguard set as a “favourite” number on your phone or as a contact so it’s readily available, or download the Coastguard app. You might even consider doing an Introduction to Boating, or a Day Skipper’s course together.

As the Bradfords say… Limit the fishing and boating to a level your crew will be comfortable with. It’s all about taking little steps but taking them often. Above all, have fun.

Looking for the right cover on the water in New Zealand in 2021?

No matter what your plans are on the water in 2021, Mariner Insurance is here to support you. We have been offering Kiwis specialist marine insurance in New Zealand for over a decade with cover for all types of boats and watercraft. Just talk to us about what you’re doing on the water, and we can tailor one of our insurance policies to fit.