08 November 2013

Category 1 Boat Inspections in New Zealand

The lovely Rhonda from Laugh Quotes recently asked about whether New Zealand Category 1 requirements will apply when we buy our next boat in the States if we go down the route of getting her a Kiwi registration. And this got me thinking that when you’re buying a boat, it isn’t just about the colour of the cushions or how big the galley is, safety should pretty much be at the top of the list of considerations. So I thought checking out what New Zealand requires for boats going off-shore would be a great place to start learning more about ensuring your boat and the crew are safe. Plus we’re still up in the air as to where we’ll register our boat – either the States or New Zealand (each with their own pros/cons) so it can't hurt to learn more about the Kiwi way of doing things when it comes to boat safety. (By the way, Rhonda is a fellow American ex-pat who lives in NZ and has some very funny observations on living here which I can completely relate to – check out this.)

If your boat is registered in New Zealand and you plan on taking her overseas, then it must have a Category 1 inspection by a yachting safety inspector from Yachting New Zealand / Maritime New Zealand. The purpose of the inspection is to make sure the boat design and construction is suitable, the safety and communication equipment is up to snuff and the skipper and crew are capable of undertaking the voyage safely. If you are a member of an affiliated yacht club, then the inspection costs NZ$121 and the certificate if valid for two years. For everyone else, the cost is NZ$221. Although, I'm not quite sure if the fee is the administration charge with a separate fee for the inspector him/herself. I suspect it is more than what I've indicated. If you're going for a Category 1 inspection, then your certificate is valid for one overseas voyage after which it becomes a Category 2 certificate for the remainder of the two year period of validity.

If you want more information, you can find a copy of the Safety Inspector’s 25-page manual and checklist here. If not, here is summary of some of the key things they’re looking for. I've also included a translation of what that means for my mom and others who don’t speak Nauticalese. If you're seriously thinking of a Category 1 certificate, definitely check out the manual as I'm sure I've gotten things wrong.

By the way, I’ve just reread the rest of this post and realize it is pretty long. You might want to fix yourself a snack first before you keep reading.

Safety Equipment

A functional 406 MHz EPIRB
EPIRBs are emergency position indicator location beacons which are activated in a dire emergency when all other means of rescue or communication have failed (e.g., boat is in danger of sinking, life-threatening accident or medical emergency). They are linked to your specific vessel and your position can be pinpointed to a 2 nautical mile radius. Some activate automatically when submerged, others need to be manually activated. For New Zealand, it is recommended that your EPIRB is GPS equipped to help pinpoint your location and reduce the amount of time to rescue. One of the single most important pieces of safety equipment for boats going offshore which you hope you never have to use. Apparently they cost quite a bit, but probably well worth the peace of mind they bring.
Lifejackets (with crotch straps) in good condition and the correct size for each crew member
I think everyone knows what lifejackets are but they have come a long way from when I was a wee one. They now call them PFDs (or personal flotation devices) and there are a lot of different types to choose from – see here. And the “personal” is good, because if you fall in the water you really want your own flotation device. It isn’t a great time to have to share with someone else. You must have one on board for every person who is on the boat. And while the crotch strap sounds rather weird, if you’re in a storm and conditions are rough, you really want to make sure your PFD stays on you. So the more straps the better. In a G-rated way of course, not in a 50 Shade of Grey way. Sorry, you probably weren’t thinking that at all and now you can’t get it out of your mind. Let’s move on…
A minimum of two suitable harnesses
The harnesses are lines that connect you to the boat. Like what you put toddlers in to keep them running away in the shopping mall. These kind keep you attached to the boat should you fall over. If you’re going to do serious offshore sailing in all kinds of weather, you need to ensure your boat is equipped with harnesses.
Communications receiver (at least VHF) which has maritime distress capability and suitable long range communications (MF/HF radio or satellite phone)
I really don’t know that much about communications or radios. It all kind of reminds me of using walkie-talkies when I was a kid. Fortunately, Scott has taken the VHF course and sounds very official when he talks on it. Basically, you need to make sure you have a way to communicate long-range, contact someone when you're in trouble and get weather forecasts.
Medical kit
Pretty self-explanatory. Hopefully any medical treatment that needs to be administered by us to each other on the boat will be confined to the occasional ibuprofen tablet and bandaid. But for something more serious, you need to have a variety of tablets, first aid supplies etc. as your local GP isn’t going to row out to check on you when you’re in the middle of the ocean. I’ve also got my hands on an electronic copy of Where There Is No Doctor in case we find ourselves without a doctor. Or just don’t want to pay for one.
Suitable life raft that is in survey date
Gilligan and his gang could have used one of these when their ship got into trouble. Nowadays, they have purpose-built life rafts that are very expensive but well worth it should disaster strike. Although some people would argue against carrying one given the cost balanced against the likelihood that you would need to use it. If you have one you need to get them inspected and serviced regularly because you really want your life raft to work when you need it. And you need to make sure it is attached on your deck with substantial through-bolted fittings. I don’t think there would be words to describe how you would feel if your life raft came loose and drifted away if you boat rolls over or is knocked down. If you haven't seen a life raft being deployed before, check out this video on the Sailing Simplicity (it also shows flares being tested).
Grab bag with suitable pyrotechnics in survey date
It’s like 4th of July or Guy Fawkes Day – a bag full of pyrotechnics! Except these ones aren’t meant to be fireworks that the obnoxious kids down the street set off for fun when they’ve had too much to drink. Instead you need hand flares, red parachute and orange smoke if you’re going overseas. Your grab bag should have all your other essentials that you would need if you had to ditch the boat in an emergency (identification, food, water etc.). And you’ll probably want to put a picture of your mother in your grab bag too because you might be pretty scared by this point. And moms have a way of making you feel better.

Fitted Systems
Suitable bilge pumping equipment
The bilge is the very bottom of your boat and you do not want water in it. You don’t want water anywhere inside your boat unless it is in a glass and you’re drinking it. If you do get water in your bilge, you need to be able to pump it. We have a manual bilge pump and need to pump ours out regularly as a little water gets in it from time to time.   
Sufficient fresh water
Fresh water doesn’t really require a translation as everyone knows it is essential to staying alive. It is also great for personal hygiene, but that is a secondary consideration. (Unfortunately, Scott loves to use the excuse that he is conserving water as a reason not to bathe. Boys can be icky and gross at times.) But one of things you might not think about is that you should have at least two separate supplies of water. Your water supply could get contaminated and you really need to have a back-up source. For ocean voyages you need a minimum of 2.5 litres per person per hundred miles.
Suitable fire extinguishers
Pretty self-explanatory. You need to check to make sure they’re free of corrosion and have been recently serviced. You need at least three and you need a fire blanket as well.
Suitable anchoring system
You anchor is one of the best friends you’ll ever have on your boat. It keeps you safe and secure. And you can never have too many best friends, so if you’re going offshore, you need to have at least two anchors and most people have more. If you’re on a catamaran or have less the five people on a monohull, you also need a sea anchor or drogue.
Suitable navigation system and equipment
I can’t quite tell if there are black and white guidelines around this. The manual talks about the difficult decision inspectors must make whether to sign off on boats with outdated charts and acknowledges that most people rely on electronic navigation systems. I’m guessing that they want to ensure you can operate your navigation system, have decent enough paper charts and know what to do if it all goes to hell.
Basic tools and spare parts
This is a no brainer. There are no marine stores on the big blue sea and you’re on your own when things on your boat break. Which they apparently do. All the time.


While they don’t do a survey of your boat, you must haul your boat out so that it can be inspected and they check out everything to make sure your boat is seaworthy. They check out the hull, keel, deck, windows, rig, spars, sails, cockpit structure, the galley, the structure down below etc. Basically, they need to answer the question, “Would I sail on this vessel?”

Skipper & Crew

Even if you have all of the right safety equipment and fitted systems and your boat is in good nick, if your skipper and crew don’t know what they’re doing, then you won’t get a pass to go offshore. There are no black and white rules to determine if the skipper and crew are capable, but the inspectors use the following guidelines:

  • At least one person must have previous ocean sailing experience.
  • At least one person must have navigation experience.
  • The skipper must have knowledge and experience with (1) the operation of the vessel’s equipment, machinery, safety and communications equipment; (2) weather patterns and resulting sea conditions; (3) international collision rules; (4) buoyage; (5) rigging and cordage; (6) boat stability; (7) boat handling; (8) survival at sea; (9) handling emergencies at sea; and (10) management of crew.
  • If you have kids on board, you need to have enough adults to tend to them.
  • All adult members of the crew must be proficient in (1) use and stowage of safety harnesses; (2) starting and stopping the vessel’s engine; (3) understanding when the skipper should be called; (4) operation and stowage of fire extinguishers; (5) stowage and operation of man overboard equipment; (6) use of storm sails; (7) use of white flares or spotlight; (8) emergency use of the radio and EPIRB; (9) stowage and use of lifejackets; (10) stowage and use of the grab bag; (11) stowage and deployment of the life raft; (12) abandon ship procedures; and (13) use of emergency flares.
You hear people talk about how onerous the Category 1 requirements are and whether they are necessary. Some folks say that the American boat Nina, who left New Zealand earlier this year and is presumed to have sunk in the Tasman Sea, wouldn’t have passed the Category 1 inspection. Who knows whether that’s true or not and what actually happened, but it is a good cautionary tale about the importance of safety equipment and the fact that anything can happen out there on the big blue sea. I’ll definitely be thinking more about safety then the colour of my boat cushions going forward regardless of where we register our boat and what safety certifications are required.

Although we’ll only be coastal cruising this summer in New Zealand and obviously don’t need to meet the majority of the Category 1 requirements, I thought this was a good prompt to put together a little safety checklist for us to work our way through while we’re out on the water.

1 - Fire extinguishers

We have two on board (a primary one plus a spare in a box) plus a fire blanket, but to be honest I’m not sure I would know how to operate them if we did have a fire. One fire extinguisher is mounted near the hob but has been there for ages so I’m not sure if it would even come free from its strap if you tried to pull it out. So I think we’ll do a little fire drill and pretend to use the fire extinguisher and blanket. I also want to look at the placement of where our main fire extinguisher is. If flames are coming up from the hob, you might not be able to reach it without burning yourself. It might make more sense to set the other one up on the other side of the cabin.

2 - Man Overboard

We’ve done the usual drills where you steer the boat back and try to pick up a fender in the water, but I’m not sure that this would prepare us if someone actually fell in the water. If it gets warm enough, maybe we’ll practice with one of us in the water and try throwing out the dan buoy and a line. I vote for Scott jumping in. He looks very cute in his swimming trunks. (Hopefully flattery is a sure fire way to get him to swim in the cold New Zealand water.)

3 - Life jackets/PFDs 

We’re all set in this department and actually have the fancy and expensive Spinlock kind of PFDs that theoretically inflate if you hit the water. We haven’t tested this theory out. I wonder if we should as we have spare gas canisters. It might be fun to jump in the water and see if they inflate. Or I can watch from the cockpit and take pictures while Scott tests the theory out. Does anyone actually do this? At the very least, we’ll do an inspection of our PFDs and make sure everything is in working order when we get the boat ready to go for the season.

4 - Water 

We’ve never really worried too much about our water supply when we sailed last summer as we were always back on shore by the time we needed some more and it is more or less readily available in the Hauraki Gulf (although not always treated). This summer, I want to pay more attention to how much water we actually use each day to get a feel for where we might be wasting it, how long we can go without refilling the water bladder etc. I also want to figure out how to treat water. We’ve ever only used treated water from marinas, but maybe I should experiment with treating some water in a jerry can? And then experiment with the treated water on Scott?

5 - Boat Handling

I’ve helmed the boat last year and have actually come a long way from when we first chartered boats in the Bay of Islands. I think Scott still has fond memories of when he was down below in the toilet and I screeched with panic in my voice and made him run up top because I thought a boat was going to run into us. Turned out the other boat was a looooong way away and would have taken another two hours to get close enough to hit us. I might need new glasses. So I’ll need to do a lot more practice including becoming more comfortable in crowded areas and being at the helm when we moor and anchor the boat.
I’m sure there are plenty more things we should practice and work through, so any suggestions welcome.

Checklist via Yachting New Zealand


  1. Wow, imagine my surprise to see my name and lovely in the same sentence. You must have seen my new hair cut. Thanks so much for the mention. We are not off-shore sailors, but we do know the rules as so many of our yacht club friends sail the world. As for Man overboard drills, may I advise against putting Scott in the water unless you are 100% sure you can retrieve him, and you have several others on-board with you, even if they are only spotters or there for emergencies. Plus, if you have a ladder, he can use that to get back on-board, the exercise is really being able to stop the boat along side your swimmer. Just my opinion.

    1. You are lovely - you leave really nice comments on our blog which is really sweet. Plus I'm sure your new haircut is lovely too. I think our family might be interested in your observations on life in NZ so added in the link so they can check it out. That way they'll know I'm not making this stuff up :-)

      I really wouldn't put Scott in the water, especially on my own - I would be too worried I couldn't get the boat over to him or worse, hit him with the boat. But I do worry about what would happen if he did fall in and was injured and couldn't get up on the swim ladder. What would I do? Would I even be able to throw the dan buoy out to him? I have terrible aim. How would I haul him on board etc. I think it is something I need to do some more investigation and research on for peace of mind. It is nice sailing here in NZ with the Coast Guard being so responsive and often other boats around....but it is thinking about the what ifs that sometimes keeps me up at night. I will definitely be practicing the man overboard with an inanimate object again this summer to improve my skills helming the boat so that I'm sure I can get alongside the hypothetical man overboard.

    2. Worst case scenario, you can winch him in with the spinnaker halyard. :) I am sure you won't go off shore until Scott knows that you can rescue him, so don't loose sleep.


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