The IMRF’s Asia-Pacific Regional Centre (APRC) recently co-hosted an International Yachting Safety and Rescue Forum as part of the Shanghai International Marine Festival organised by new IMRF Associate Members Shanghai Yuan Zhou Cultural Communications.

Pleasure boating is still very new to China, though it is growing in interest and participation. The IMRF arranged international speakers from New Zealand, the UK and Finland to provide presentations on regulating the recreational fleet, educating the recreational boating community and establishing volunteer search and rescue services. The audience was a mix of regulators, insurers, recreational boat builders and rescue services.

Mr Zheng Weihang of the China Yacht Development Experts Committee provided valuable insights into the growing recreational boating community. Currently, recreational boating is the domain of the wealthy, with pleasure craft being used more for entertaining while securely moored than for cruising. But there is a strong push to create public marinas and make boating more accessible to the wider community.

With only an estimated 7,000 pleasure craft the market is still veryn small – but demand is growing. Mr Zheng, and other speakers, also noted that recreational boats looking to go out on the coastal waters are treated in the same way as commercial vessels. It is hoped that regulations will be developed better suited for recreational activity.

By comparison, New Zealand has a recreational fleet of approximately 900,000 with very little regulation, and no requirement for licencing or registering boats. The UK is a similar environment with about 2.8 million people going boating and no skipper training or licencing required.

In both countries the safety record is good with around 30 fatalities per year. Many of these occur in vessels of under 5 metres length, and a good number would have survived had they been wearing lifejackets.

Lindsay Sturt, of Maritime New Zealand, explained how a strategic approach had been used to improve recreational boating safety, bringing all the stakeholders together to discuss, plan and collaborate. This approach has provided a focus point and a sounding board for proposed safety regulations.

John Cowan of NZ Coastguard Boating Education provided an overview of the training and education they deliver, with a move to on-line training recently implemented. Without compulsory training having options for training that fit the time available to students is key to completing the courses.

John also noted that because of the increasing number of Chinese moving to New Zealand the courses have now been translated to cater for this growing market.

The Finnish Lifeboat Institute’s Jori Nordström made the important point that in many cases distress is relative to the skipper’s experience.

He discussed how volunteer rescue groups are an effective way of improving the response to pleasure craft in distress. Identifying where the service is needed requires good relationships between Governmental and non-governmental groups, but the establishment of volunteer services can happen quickly. Jori cited Estonia as a good example.

Building a safety culture is an exciting challenge – and the work has begun!