Stay safe on the water this summer; Harbourmaster

24 Nov 2016, 2:55 PM

Northland’s Regional Harbourmaster is once again urging locals and visitors to follow a few simple rules and courtesies to keep themselves and their loved ones safe on the water over summer.

Opua-based Jim Lyle says breaking the 5 knot speed rule, operating in a way that leaves a large wake or failing to clearly fly dive flags are common bad behaviours that can have a range of consequences from mildly irritating to potentially deadly.

“The sea and our coastal areas can be quite unforgiving and things can go wrong quite quickly which is why we have the rules and regulations we do,” he says. 

“They’re designed to allow everyone to enjoy our beautiful coast and get out on the water in different ways, but at the same time keep them as safe as possible.”

Mr Lyle says Northland is one of eight councils nationally that along with Maritime NZ has agreed to take part in a summer trial of a ‘no excuses’ policy for recreational boaties not carrying lifejackets and for those who speed on the water.

He says speed is a common issue and that legally vessels must not exceed 5 knots within 50 metres of another vessel or person in the water, 200m of shore or 200m of a vessel engaged in dive operations.

“Taking off or arriving at boat ramps or wharf at high speed, leaving a wake large enough to annoy other water users or even worse, put them at risk and water skiing and jet skiing amongst swimmers are other no-nos.”

Mr Lyle says there are a range of penalties from instant fines to prosecution for breaches of marine bylaws and rules and ultimately a skipper is responsible for the safety of the vessel, its passengers and other water users.

“That’s especially true where lifejackets are concerned and in Northland, a lifejacket of appropriate size and type must be carried for every person on board.”

On vessels less than six metres long, lifejackets must be worn unless the skipper has decided this is not necessary.  “Again, such a decision should not be made lightly as the skipper is responsible for the safety of people on the vessel.”

Mr Lyle says when risk does increase, such as when crossing a bar, bad weather or at night, lifejackets must be worn.

“If in doubt wear the lifejacket; remember there’s very little time to put it on or even find your lifejackets once an emergency occurs and people need to be familiar with how to wear and operate their lifejackets.”

Similarly, Mr Lyle says when vessels are being used for diving, a dive flag of at least 600 x 600 millimetres must be displayed prominently on the boat.  “Smaller flags and floats with similar markings aren’t acceptable.”

He says a rigid flag is advisable in light wind conditions and can also be used when a cloth flag is not practical.  “It’s vital to signal clearly to other vessels that you have a diver in the water.”

A dive boat is required to remain within 200m of divers, with the boat crew prepared to assist quickly if required.

“Divers too must be conscious of where their support boat is and are required to stay within a 200m radius from the boat.”

Mr Lyle says other vessels in the area should not exceed 5 knots within 200m of a vessel flying a dive flag and should keep a good lookout.

“Ideally, keep clear by well over 200m, as divers could be operating close to the 200m limit from the boat and it can be difficult to accurately estimate distances over water.”

Mr Lyle says council maritime staff – and NZ Police – will be out on the water in Northland over summer to provide advice and keep an eye out for bad behaviour.

Meanwhile, he says more information on the matters outlined above – and a range of other maritime-related issues like water and jet ski use, moorings, navigation lights refuelling advice and boat sewage – is available from the regional council’s website via