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If your boat is sinking, someone is injured or life is in danger, immediately call us on VHF Channel 16 (the international maritime distress channel), dial *500 from your cellphone for our Operations Centre, or dial 111.


For non-urgent assistance such as an electrical problem or mechanical issue, use your local VHF channel or call the Operations Centre on *500 from your cellphone. If you are a member, you'll receive free assistance* (instead of $280 per hour for non-members).



A distress/Mayday call is used to indicate that a boat or person is threatened by grave and imminent danger and requires immediate assistance - for example, a boat taking on water, a vessel on fire, a person overboard or a serious medical emergency such as a heart attack.

Example of a MAYDAY call on VHF:

Mayday. Mayday. Mayday.
This is Achiever, Achiever, Achiever ZMW3545.
Mayday, Achiever ZMW3545.
We are at (state your general geographical position) in position (latitude & longitude).
We have (state what is wrong, the nature of your distress).
We require immediate assistance.
We have (state how many people on-board).
Any other helpful information.

Wait for a response from either Coastguard Radio or Maritime Radio (or a nearby vessel). They will then ask for more information and confirm assistance is being sent to you as soon as possible. In addition, relay calls will be issued to alert any nearby vessels to your position - this is the benefit of making your Mayday call on the VHF.

If you're sinking

  • Put on lifejackets if you’re not already wearing them
  • Raise the alarm (MAYDAY)
  • Locate the source of the leak if it’s safe to do so, try to plug it
  • Bail the water as best as you can with a bailer 
  • If the boat submerges and you have to go in the water, stay with the vessel – your chances of being found are much higher this way.
Capsized vessel

Capsized vessel in NZ waters.

If you're on fire

An onboard fire can be a boatie’s worst nightmare. Control it if you can by:

  • Putting on lifejackets if you’re not already wearing them
  • Raising the alarm (MAYDAY)
  • Controlling the fire if you can do so safely by removing either:
    • Fuel – Shut down the engine and fuel supply if it is an engine fire; Turn off power supply if it is an electrical fire.
      Note: This may effect communication, so make sure you’ve raised the alarm first.
    • Heat – applying cold water
    • Oxygen – smothering the fire with a fire blanket or extinguisher
  • Preparing to abandon ship
Coastguard putting fire out

Coastguard putting out a fire.

What's the best extinguisher to carry?

  • Solid material fire: CO2, Multi-purpose, Dry powder, or a bucket of water!
  • Liquid fires: Foam, CO2, Dry powder, fire blanket
  • Gases: CO2
  • Electrical fires: CO2, Dry powder

Make sure your extinguisher is easily accessible, and is serviced regularly.

A range of fire extinguishers. Credit: BoatUS Foundation.

A range of fire extinguishers. Credit: BoatUS Foundation.

Person overboard

There are four steps to remember if one of your mates goes overboard:

  • Shout loudly, to make sure everyone knows that someone’s gone overboard
  • Throw a life buoy, line or lifejacket as close as you can to the person, not only to help them stay afloat but also to mark their position
  • Watch the person carefully – it’s easy to lose sight of someone in the water, so don’t take your eyes off them!
  • Stop the boat and turn back as soon as you’re able.

Remember that the prop is always a danger to anyone in the water, so take care as you approach them.

Man overboard.

Man overboard.

After you’re safe

If you’ve been evacuated from your boat, but it’s still seaworthy and can be towed, Coastguard will make every effort to remove it to a safe area. But it’s important to note that Coastguard is a search-and-rescue charity, so your life comes first. Sometimes a vessel will have to be left for recovery later.


Reporting an accident

If your vessel has sunk, you’ll need to contact your local Harbourmaster to inform them. They’ll be able to assess any environmental impact, determine whether your vessel is a navigational hazard, and advise you about salvage options.

In many cases, you’ll also need to arrange to remove your boat. Salvage agents across the country can assist with this.

Understanding the reasons behind accidents is important, so that lessons learned can benefit other boaties. You’ll need to contact Maritime NZ to report any accident.


Assistance at any time

Coastguard membership

Not every problem on the water is life threatening. As a Coastguard member you’ll have peace-of-mind every time you hit the water, knowing that if the unexpected happens – whether it’s a flat battery, a problem with the motor, a lost prop or something more serious – we’ll be there with free on-water assistance. Terms and conditions apply.