Crossing harbour bars

Northland has a number of bar harbours. These harbours have a shallow sand bar across the entrance, which can be dangerous to cross, particularly around low tide. Local advice and knowledge, as well as experience, are essential for safe bar crossings.

Where are they?

Bar harbours in Northland include Herekino, Hokianga, Kaipara, Mangawhai, Pārengarenga and Whāngāpē. Smaller harbours such as Ngunguru, Pataua and Whananaki can also be difficult to transit in certain weather conditions.

Before you cross a bar:

  • Check weather and tides for the area, and seek local advice.
  • Check your steering and engines.
  • Consider the skipper's experience level and the vessel type.
  • A rapid change in conditions might prevent a safe return to harbour – if your boat and provision levels won't allow you to weather it out at sea, don't leave port.

If in doubt, don't go out!

During a bar crossing

  • Securely batten down or close all deck openings, hatches and doors.
  • Ensure your vessel has adequate stability. Secure moveable objects and ensure all weights, including passengers, are as low down in the vessel as possible.
  • Ensure everyone on board is awake, dressed and wearing their lifejacket.
  • Approach the bar at a moderate speed so you can adjust your speed as needed.
  • Have a lookout at the back of the boat to watch for dangerous swells that may be building.
  • Keep a safe following distance and well clear of any vessels.
  • It is ultimately the skipper's responsibility to determine whether or not to cross a bar. If in doubt, DO NOT cross the bar.

Remember, it is ultimately the skipper’s responsibility to determine whether or not to cross a bar!

Note: Anyone surfing, windsurfing or using personal watercraft should exercise caution near bars, and keep clear of other vessels crossing the bar.

Read the National Code of Practice for Bar Crossings at

Watch: Safer Boating NZ – how to cross a bar safely 

This video about safely crossing a bar has been produced by the Waikato and Bay of Plenty regional councils, and is available on Safer Boating NZ's YouTube channel.