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Safety on the Water

Hawke's Bay is renowned for its beautiful waterways. These waterways are shared by boaties, swimmers, jetskis and others. The sea and our coastal areas can be quite unforgiving and things can go wrong quickly, which is why rules, regulations and guidelines are in place to help you keep safe.

Information and advice

If you are heading out on the water, make sure you are informed, prepared and have all the equipment you need before you go. Whether you're on a paddleboard, a powerboat, or anything in between:

Check your gear, know the rules, come home safe.

Every skipper in New Zealand is responsible for the safety of those on board, no matter how big or small the vessel is. This means managing the risks of being on the water at all times.

Even though a licence is not required to operate a pleasure boat in New Zealand, ignorance of any maritime rules or bylaws is no excuse for failure to comply. Non-compliance can lead to fines or prosecution.

If you are the skipper of your vessel you must:

  • Ensure you have all the necessary equipment on board for the trip you intend to make.

  • Make sure everyone on board knows what safety equipment is carried, where it is stowed and how it works.

  • The driver of any powerboat capable of speeds in excess of 10 knots must be 15 years of age or over.

  • Know the rules of the road at sea and the local bylaws.

  • Never overload your boat with people or equipment.

  • Make sure everything on board is properly stowed and secured.

  • Always maintain your boat, its motor, electrics and equipment.

  • Check everything before you head out.

  • Check the marine weather forecast and tide times before you head out.

  • Listen for regular updates while you are out on the water.

  • Always carry two forms of communication and make sure they are waterproof.

  • Avoid alcohol consumption.

  • Always keep a good lookout.

  • Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back and do a trip report with Coastguard.

  • Report any oil or fuel spills to our 24 hour Pollution Hotline on 0800 884 883.

  • All maritime incidents/accidents must be reported to the Harbourmaster and Maritime New Zealand immediately.

Ensure your safety when out on the water by following this essential equipment checklist.

  • Fire extinguisher

  • Anchor

  • Boat hook

  • Bailing device

  • Kill cord for open powerboats

  • Torch and spare battery

  • Throwline

  • Spare fuel

  • Knife

  • First aid kit

  • Lifejacket - appropriate size for each person on board

  • Two forms of waterproof communications

  • Navigation equipment - exactly what you need will depend on where and how far you are going

  • Oars

Lifejackets save lives

People on board a vessel 6m or less must now wear a lifejacket when the boat is underway.

It is also a legal requirement to wear lifejackets at times of heightened risk, such as when crossing bars, in strong tides, or in water that is rough for the size of the craft, and in an emergency, irrespective of the vessel length.

If you are water skiing, using a personal watercraft/jet ski or a paddleboard or kayak, we recommend you wear a lifejacket at all times.

If you are being towed, it is a legal requirement to wear a lifejacket.

Ensure that any children, elderly or non-swimmers always put their lifejackets on. Crotch straps are essential for children's lifejackets.

The Maritime NZ website has tips on checking your lifejackets before you set off, including advice on older lifejackets and how to know when it's time to replace them.

Choosing the right lifejacket:

It is important to have the right type of lifejacket. Consider the type of water activity you do, the distance from shore you intend to go, and the kind of conditions you are likely to encounter, Talk to your local supplier or our Harbormaster about what's the best type of lifejacket or other personal flotation device (PFD) for your activity.

Things to consider:

  • The activity – Fishing? Watersports? Kayaking?
  • The distance from shore you intend to go
  • The conditions you are likely to encounter.

If in doubt, talk to your local supplier or our Harbourmaster about what is the best type of lifejacket or other PFD for your activity.

choose right lifejacket poster inflatables poster

Five or fine

You must travel at a safe speed at all times. Take into account: 

  • The manoeuvrability of your craft.
  • Visibility.
  • Wind and sea state.
  • How busy it is on the water around you.
  • Other water users.
  • Hazards in the area.
  • The depth of water.
  • Remember the 5 knot rule.

Your boat must not exceed five knots when: 

  • Within 200 metres of the shore or a structure.
  • Within 200 metres of any vessel flying the International Code A Flag, for example, a dive flag. 
  • Within 50 metres of another boat, raft or person in the water. 
  • When the boat has anyone at or on the bow, with any portion of his/her body extending over the fore part, bow or side of the vessel.

Who gives way?

When two boats are approaching each other, one has the right of way. The ‘give way’ rules depend on what type of boat you’re on and the type of boat you’re approaching. Make sure your actions are clear, taken in good time and do not take you close to other vessels. Ignorance of the rules is no excuse.

overtakingOvertaking - power boats and sail boats 

All boats (sail or power) overtaking from astern are responsible for keeping clear until finally past the boat being overtaken.

Always assume that the boat in front may not be aware of your presence or intentions.

When power meets power

when power meets power

Powerboats meeting head on must each alter their course to starboard to pass on the port side of each other.

Keep right.

When sail meets sail 

when sail meets sail

Power boats crossing

when power and sail meet


The waters of New Zealand are marked for safe navigation using the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) A maritime buoyage system.

Buoys and beacons help guide boaties through shallow water, busy channels and past hazards. They are the ‘road signs’ on the water and the different shapes and sizes communicate important information about what side is safe to pass on.

Port hand markers

When entering the harbour, channel or marina, the red port (left) mark should be kept on the boat’s port (left) side, and the green starboard (right) mark on the boat’s starboard (right) side.
  • May have a red flashing light at night
  • Shape: Can, pillar or spar
  • Colour: Red
  • Topmark: (if any) Red can
  • Light: (if any) Red; any rhythm other than preferred channel.
port hand marker 219x106

Starboard hand markers

When leaving the harbour, channel or marina the red mark should be kept on the boat’s starboard (right) side, and the green mark on the boat’s port (left) side.

  • May have a green flashing light at night
  • Shape: Conical, pillar or spar
  • Colour: Green
  • Topmark: (if any) Green cone
  • Light: (if any) Green; any rhythm other than preferred channel.
starboard hand markers 217x113

Preferred channel to Port

If entering the harbour and approaching two channels, the preferred channel to port marker indicates which side the predominant channel is on. If you opt to take the preferred channel the marker should be kept on the boat’s starboard (right) side.

  • May have a green flashing light at night
  • Shape: Conical, pillar or spar
  • Colour: Green with red band
  • Topmark: (if any) Green cone
  • Light: (if any) Green composite group flash Fl (2+1).
preferred channel to port 229x116

Preferred channel to Starboard

If entering the harbour and approaching two channels, the preferred channel to starboard marker indicates which side the predominant channel is on. If you opt to take the preferred channel the marker should be kept on the boat’s port (left) side.

  • May have a red flashing light at night
  • Shape: Can, pillar or spar
  • Colour: Red with green band
  • Topmark: (if any) Red can
  • Light: (if any) Red composite group flash Fl (2+1).
preferred channel to starboard 230x113

Isolated danger marks

To mark a small danger area with navigable water all around it.

isolated danger mark 123x92

Safe water marks

This does not mark a danger, but is used to mark mid channels or the beginning of a fairway.  There is safe water all around the mark.

safe water mark 196x92

Special marks

Marks an area of special significance such as a cable or pipeline, a military exercise area, a recreation zone or marine farm or marine reserve.

special marks

Cardinal marker

These marks indicate the side of any point of interest or danger on which it is safe to pass. The deepest water in that area is on the named side of the mark.

cardinal marks

Reserved area marker

A reserved area gives swimmers and Personal Water Craft (PWC) priority for certain activities such as skiing and jet skiing. Reserved areas are marked with black and white horizontal banded posts.

reserved area marker

Waterski access lane marker

You may only ski from shore in a water ski access lane or reserved area; otherwise the 5 knot rule applies. Ski access lanes and reserved areas have no special status unless actually in use for skiing. Water skiers may exceed 5 knots within 200 metres of the shore within marked zones only.

  • All ski lanes operate in an anticlockwise direction
  • You must enter and drop off on the right side of the lane as you face the land
  • You must take off and exit on the right side of the lane as you face the water
  • Vessels engaged in water skiing have priority in these areas.
waterski access lane

Out at night? Lights on sunset to sunrise

To help other boaties understand what you’re doing and which way you’re heading while you’re underway, your boat must display lights from sunset to sunrise and in rain and fog. Not using lights is dangerous and could result in a fine.

Vessels under sail

Over 20 metres

  • Sidelights and sternlights only - no masthead light.

Under 20 metres

  • Under 20 metres may have combined masthead lantern (red/green/white) with no other lights.

sail boats under 20 over 20

Power driven vessels underway

Over 12 metres

  • Masthead light - sidelights and sternlights

Under 12 metres

  • May show all-round white light (instead of masthead light and sternlight) and sidelights.

power driven vessels under 12 over 12

 Under 7 metres and speed over 7 knots

  • May show all round white light only.

Under 7 metres and speed under 7 knots

  • Non powered vessels under 7 metres i.e. canoes, kayaks, paddleboards and rowing dinghies must show a white light or use a torch to indicate its presence.

under 7m powered and non powered


At anchor

Vessels that are anchored must show the top white light at night.

It is important to give way to shipping. The skipper of any power boat, sail boat, paddle craft or other recreational or commercial vessel, whether underway or at anchor, shall ensure that their craft does not impede the navigation of any vessel of 500 gross tonnes or more.

If the pilot vessel or patrol boat asks you to move from the shipping channels, you must move promptly.

Remember that large ships need plenty of room and will be travelling a lot faster than you think, as they enter our harbours. This also means they cannot stop quickly.

Do not cross the bow of a large ship, they cannot see you. Keep your distance. 

Why is that ship honking its horn? 

ship honking

ve flagHawke's Bay has lots of recreational and commercial diving opportunities.

The following is a list of rules and recommendations:

  • Always dive in pairs and have an observer in the boat.
  • Do not dive in shipping lanes or areas of frequent traffic.
  • Agree to a dive plan, and then adhere to it.
  • Display the International Code A Flag from the dive boat.
  • Do not exceed 5 knots within 200 metres of a Code A flag.

The Code A Flag means: “I have a diver down, keep well clear at slow speed”. 

The dive flag must not be less than 600 mm by 600 mm in size and must be visible from a distance of 200 metres.

All craft must reduce speed to a maximum of five knots within 200 metres of a Code A Flag.

This flag may also be attached to a small marker buoy towed by a diver.

It may also be flown by craft escorting long distance swimmers.

It takes three to ski

If you’re towing someone behind your boat, Jetski or other personal water craft, whether they’re on skis, a wakeboard or biscuit, you must have an observer aged 10 or over who can communicate the actions of the person being towed.

Water skiing rules

Anyone being towed must wear a lifejacket and you can only ski between sunrise and sunset.

As a skipper you need to:

  • Keep to designated ski areas (or make sure you are more than 200 metres offshore).
  • Always have an observer who is more than 10 years old.
  • Always tow in an anti-clockwise direction.

The designated ski lanes and ski areas throughout the region give priority to these activities.

Hawke's Bay has some lovely spots for paddling, so here are some simple tips to keep you safe when you head out on the water.


  • Equipment: you MUST carry a correctly fitting lifejacket or personal floatation device (PFD). We recommend you wear one at all times.
  • Make sure you have at least one form of waterproof communication, like a cell phone in a waterproof bag or a VHF radio.
  • Wear suitable warm clothing.
  • Carry a bailer or pump.
  • Check the weather and tides before heading out.
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you expect to be back.
  • Kayak with mates.
  • Be visible. Sticking reflective day glow or high visibility tape to your paddle blades is a good idea.
  • Know your limitations.
  • Talk to a local if you’re paddling in a new area - contact your local canoe/kayak retailer or local Coastguard unit.
  • Make sure your kayak is clearly marked with emergency contact details.


  • Check the weather. It’s vital to know what the wind is forecast to do during your paddleboarding adventure.
  • Check the tides so you know what to expect during your time out on the water.
  • Avoid offshore winds. These are the ones that blow you away from the shore. Plan your trip and launching site with this in mind.
  • Paddle with a mate. It’s more fun and safer with a friend or in a group.
  • Carry at least one form of waterproof communications - this could be a VHF radio or cell phone in a waterproof bag.
  • Learning. Take a lesson from a professional paddleboard instructor to learn good techniques early and gain maximum enjoyment from this sport.
  • Safety. Avoid areas where there are lots of other boats, strong currents and dangerous rocks. Don’t be afraid to adopt the ‘safe position’ (paddle from a kneeling position) to get back to the shore if you’re finding it too hard or unstable, or there is too much wind.
  • When paddleboarding on flat water you must carry a PFD and we recommend you wear it at all times. Your paddleboard is the biggest flotation device you have, so stay with it. Wear a leash when paddling on flat water.
  • Stand up paddle boards in the surf are exempt from carrying communications or carrying a PFD, as long as you are wearing a leash.
  • In fast flowing rivers it is recommended that you wear a PFD but do not wear your leash.

Paddling at night

Maritime rules require kayakers to carry a torch to prevent collision. However, holding a torch may prevent you from paddling effectively and therefore being seen! Wearing a head torch allows your arms to be free to paddle. Or, mounting an all-round white light on your rear deck above head-height means you will be visible from all directions.

Check the Standup Paddleboarding Safety Guide for more tips and safety information.

Marine VHF Channels

Newer VHF Radios may have four digits.

Boat to boat Ch.06 and Ch.08
International distress and calling frequency Ch.16
Napier Port Ch.12
Coastguard Ch.01 (24 hours)
Ch.79 (24 hour weather channel)
4-digit channels for weather information via Nowcasting 2019

You should carry two forms of waterproof communications on board with you.

These can include:

  • EPIRB or PLB
  • VHF radio
  • a mobile phone in a waterproof bag
  • flares.

Learn how to radio a distress call on the Maritime NZ website.


Knowing and respecting the weather and tide conditions can make all the difference to your day out on our harbours and lakes.

No matter what craft you are on, you should always check the marine weather forecast and know the tide times before you head out.

  • 24/7 marine wind and weather conditions via VHF Radio - Ch. 79.
    • Newer VHF Radios may have four digits. If so please add 20 before new channels e.g. – 79 becomes 2079.
  • Useful websites: MetserviceWind GuruBuoy Weather


Tide tables can be found in many places; your local fishing shop, your local paper, Coastguard handbooks and, of course, online.

LINZ are responsible for New Zealand’s hydrographic information and produce our tide charts. You can download tide charts from the LINZ website for all areas and for the whole year ahead.

Safer Boating Tips

Watch this video to ensure you cover the basics of safety before you head out. 

Telarc Registration Marks QUALITY ISO 9001 2015 for web

The Harbourmaster's office is certified to international standard ISO 9001:2015 and is committed to continual improvement.


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While every endeavour has been taken by the Hawke's Bay Regional Council to ensure that the information on this website is accurate and up to date, Hawke's Bay Regional Council shall not be liable for any loss suffered through the use, directly or indirectly, of information on this website. Information contained has been assembled in good faith. Some of the information available in this site is from the New Zealand Public domain and supplied by relevant government agencies. Hawke's Bay Regional Council cannot accept any liability for its accuracy or content. Portions of the information and material on this site, including data, pages, documents, online graphics and images are protected by copyright, unless specifically notified to the contrary. Externally sourced information or material is copyright to the respective provider.

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