Float-free beacons compulsory for fishing vessels

File photo.

‘Float-free’ distress beacons will soon become compulsory for commercial fishing vessels to improve safety in the sector. 

Operators will need to install float-free EPIRBs on all applicable commercial fishing vessels by 1 January 2019, as one of five maritime rule changes to the Maritime Rules made recently by the Minister of Transport. 

The new requirement was prompted by recommendations from Coroners and the Transport Accident and Investigation Commission, following the deaths of 24 people over the last 11 years on inshore fishing boats that sank. Float-free EPIRBs will automatically deploy and activate when submerged in water. 

Maritime NZ General Manager Maritime Standards Sharyn Forsyth says crews in these incidents had manual EPIRBs on board, but were unable to activate them.

“We want to give people plenty of warning of the new requirement in the lead up to next January - we hope this  notice period will assist operators who are replacing their old EPIRBs over the coming months. This new measure will save lives.”

The new rule was introduced following consultation, and applies to fishing vessels of between 7.5 metres and 24 metres operating outside enclosed waters (i.e. outside harbours, estuaries and other inland or sheltered waters).

New Zealand Federation of Commercial Fishermen President Doug Saunders-Loder supports making float-free EPIRBs compulsory.

“This is a practical change that will make commercial fishing safer and help save lives - a core business and priority for our organisation,” he says.

Other changes to the Maritime Rules, that come into effect on 15 March 2018, remove outdated requirements, allow for new technology, and reduce compliance costs:

•    Tugs - allow the use of current international stability criteria set by “classification societies” for towing operations.
•    Fishing boats - allow more modern satellite search and rescue technology as an alternative to radar transponders on fishing vessels operating beyond 200 nautical miles from the coast.
•    Fishing boats - remove the requirement for fishing boats operating in some areas to carry a radio with narrow-band direct printing. This is an old technology which has been replaced by modern radio systems in many countries, including New Zealand.
•    Sailing vessels - allowing for modern design, and removing the requirement that manual bilge pumps must be operable from above the deck.


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