Emergency situations

Most serious emergencies occur unexpectedly and very quickly. Being prepared may save your life.


85% of boating fatalities in boats under 6m are the result of swamping or capsize. A capsize is usually completely unexpected and you have no possibility of grabbing anything other than what is closest to you.

Many boaties have drowned within the few hours following a capsize before help was able to reach them, and this is often because they have not taken the correct precautions. These fatalities are overwhelmingly males.

Always remember the following: 


  • A capsize can happen to anyone, no matter how experienced they are, or how safe their boat is;
  • Always wear a lifejacket in small boats
  • Make sure you have at least two ways to communicate back to shore
  • Red hand flares are the best visual distress signal and can be used by day or night.
  • Make sure you can retrieve your essential equipment easily


If your boat starts taking in water, make sure everyone on board has a correctly fitting life jacket on and it is properly fastened.

If you can, try to locate the cause of the leak and reduce the flow of water by pushing something into the hole. Make a distress call and head towards shallower water while bailing out the water as much as possible.

Should the boat submerge or turn over, stay with the boat as you have a much greater chance of being found.

Distress signals

If you find yourself in a life-threatening situation on the water, use one of the following distress signals.


Use Channel 16 on your VHF radio to call MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY. Give the name of your boat and your call sign, followed by your position and details of your distress.

Emergency locater beacons

Switch on your beacon and the satellite will relay your distress signal and position to the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ). Keep it switched on until help arrives.

Make sure you regularly check the expiry date of the battery in your beacon, and replace as soon as it expires.

Two types of locater beacon can be used on boats, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) and Personal Locater Beacons (PLBs). EPIRBs are specifically designed for marine use.

Only 406 mHz beacons are detected by satellites.


Send an SOS ( ... – – – ... ) by any signal method such as light or sound.


Call 111 and ask for the Police. Give your position, and cellphone number so that you can be called if further information is needed by rescue services. Keep your cellphone in your pocket in a sealed plastic bag or purpose-made waterproof container so it will not be put out of action in a capsize or swamping. Use it in the plastic bag.

Distress flares

These are vital items. Regularly check the expiry date on your flares, and replace them.