Crossing harbour bars

Northland has a number of bar harbours. These are harbours that have a shallow sand bar across the entrance which can create dangerous conditions in certain winds and tides. Low tide is particularly dangerous.

Low tide is particularly dangerous.

Bar harbours in Northland include:

  • East coast: Mangawhai and Pārengarenga; and
  • West coast: Whāngāpē, Herekino, Hokianga and the Kaipara.

N.B. Smaller harbours like Ngunguru, Pataua and Whananaki can also be difficult to transit in certain weather conditions.

Local advice and knowledge, as well as experience, are required before attempting to cross the bar of any harbour.

Before you cross a bar 

  • Get up-to-date information and a weather report for the area; 
  • Check the tides, inspect the bar at low tide if possible and ask for local advice;
  • Ensure steering and engines are performing properly; 
  • Consider the skipper’s experience level and the vessel type. A robust vessel and ample experience may not be enough for crossing a bar safely when the conditions are marginal or adverse;
  • A rapid change in conditions might prevent a safe return to harbour. Vessels unable to weather adverse seas outside the bar should not leave port. Those vessels leaving for longer trips should ensure that they have adequate reserve fuel and provisions to enable the vessel to remain at sea and/or divert to another port should adverse bar conditions prevail on their

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. Loose gear on deck, including ice slurry bins and their lids, should be secured; 
  • Ensure that everyone on board is awake and dressed;
  • Every person on board should wear a lifejacket of an appropriate type and size throughout the crossing. Children should be closely monitored;
  • The approach to the bar should be made at a moderate speed so that speed can be increased or slackened as conditions dictate;
  • A lookout watching astern should be posted to keep the helmsman informed of the approach of dangerous building swells;
  • Keep a safe following distance and well clear of any vessels, to ensure sufficient sea-room and manoeuvrability;
  • 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, wind-surfing or using personal water craft should exercise caution near bars, and keep clear of other vessels crossing the bar.

Download safety procedures and advice from Maritime New Zealand (PDF, 91 KB)

View the Bar Crossing - how to cross a bar safely video 

This video about safely crossing a bar has been produced by Waikato Regional Council and Bay of Plenty Regional Council.