Near miss prompts shipping channel warning

15 Dec 2021, 11:53 AM

Vessels choosing to anchor in main shipping channels, particularly in Whangārei, are unnecessarily placing themselves and others at risk.

“There are still occasional issues with small recreational vessels in the Bay of Islands and Whangārei getting in the way of large ships,” says Regional Harbourmaster Jim Lyle.

Harbourmaster Jim Lyle.Jim Lyle, Regional Harbourmaster.The warning comes after a recent incident which saw a large ship having to take action to narrowly avoid collision with a recreational fisherman in the Whangārei Harbour.

Mr Lyle says these incidents are potentially very serious when they involve large ships negotiating the harbour from or to the deep-water jetties and wharves operated by Refining NZ, Northport, and the Portland Cement Works.

“Just recently, we had some people on a launch anchored in a critical point of the channel and this guy was right in the middle, and they just carried on fishing thinking that the ship could go around,” Mr Lyle says.

“They’re keenly fishing away in the main channel and they’re oblivious to the fact that a large ship is bearing down on them.”

Because the ships involved are so big, with deep draft, they are limited to the marked deep-water channel and need the whole width of the channel to manoeuvre.

All vessels under 500 Gross Tonnage (GT) must give way to and keep out of the way of any vessel over 500 GT. These ships also have limited visibility from the bridge to directly under the bow, so small boats can disappear when they get too close.

Given these limitations, Mr Lyle says smaller vessels risk being hit or forcing the larger vessels to leave the marked navigation channels, the impacts of which can be devastating.

It is an offence to anchor in the main channel in Whangārei Harbour.

While boat users can be fined $200 for anchoring in a channel and $300 for impeding a vessel weighing over 500 tonne, Mr Lyle says that he would much rather people simply moved out of the way if they see large ships approaching.

“It’s fine if they spot it and get out of the way but it’s the ones that carry on fishing and think that the ships can go around them that cause issues. Particularly in Whangārei, the ships are restricted to the channel... Don’t anchor in the main shipping channels.”

“If you are fishing near a main channel and you see a ship coming, make sure you move well clear of the main channel and get out of the way.”

Mr Lyle also says with Summer fast approaching, boat-users should also remember the following:

  • Ensure you are using your navigation lights when on the water at night
  • If you are on a vessel under six metres, all people onboard must wear a life jacket
  • Take two forms of communication out with you, waterproof is best
  • There is a five-knot speed limit within 200 metres of the shoreline, including especially within the Whangārei marine reserve area
  • Let someone know where you are going and when you’ll be back.

More information on boating rules and regulations in Northland is available at