Safe boating rules

Here we provide you with some general tips and key bylaws to stay safe when boating in Northland. 

2017 Navigation Safety Bylaw

For a copy of all the rules when boating in Northland, you can find the Navigation Safety Bylaw online or download a copy in PDF format.

Fines can be issued by our staff for breaching the 2017 Navigation Safety Bylaw.
Get a list of infringements and fees in the Publications section of our website.

Boat safety in Northland

Boat safety check list

Before you go, check:

  • The weather forecast.
  • Lifejackets fit for purpose for all on board.
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you will be back.
  • Spare fuel and oars and a bailer.
  • Anchor with chain and rope.
  • Distress signals (flares).
  • Fire extinguishers.
  • Charts of the area.
  • Communications - VHF and a cellphone. 
  • Emergency Position Indicator Beacon (EPIRB) especially outside harbour limits.
  • Your boat maintenance is up to date.
  • Trip report is logged with coastguard.

Dive flags - Safety rules

When diving in Northland waters you must display a dive flag when divers are in the water. Find out more by watching the 'Northland safe boating rules - Dive flags' video below via our YouTube channel.

Protect our divers

  • All vessels must display a dive flag whenever there are divers in the water. The skipper must ensure the vessel is within 200 metres of the diver.
  • Divers should stay within 200 metres of the vessel showing the flag.
  • Vessels shall observe the 5 knot speed limit around dive flags.
  • The flag must be no smaller than 600mm x 600mm. It must be easily identified by another vessel at a distance of 200 metres or more.

Speed and wakes

Two of the most common, and dangerous actions, of boaties are travelling too fast and endangering others on the water with their wake.

As a skipper be sure to reduce your speed and the effects of your wake well before you need to.

Find out more about boat speed and wakes by watching the 'Northland safe boating rules - Speed and wakes' video below via our YouTube channel.


Golden rules for safe boating

  • The skipper is legally responsible for everyone on board. Be clear who's in charge.
  • Check the marine weather forecast. If in doubt, don't go out.
  • Make sure you have enough fuel, and some in reserve.
  • Keep your motor well maintained.
  • Don't overload your boat. 
  • Life jackets of the right size must be carried for every person on board.
  • Life jackets must be worn on vessels 6 metres or less when underway
  • Show your passengers where the safety gear is and how it works.
  • Keep a good lookout at all times.
  • Know the "Rules of the road at sea". 
  • Know the area you are boating in. Use a navigation chart if you don't. Navigational charts are available at and at local marine chandleries. 
  • Don't drink and go boating.
  • Anchor carefully so your boat doesn't drag or swing around and damage other craft.

Lifejackets / Personal Flotation Devices

It is a requirement to carry correct fitting life jackets for each person on board.

You must wear a life jacket if:

  • You are on a vessel 6 metres or less when its underway*
  • There is a heightened risk such as crossing a bar or adverse weather
  • You are being towed i.e. ski biscuit, wakeboarding or water skiing

*Underway means not aground, anchored or fixed to the shore

*For further information on this see the Navigation Safety Bylaw 2017.

Two men wearing lifejackets on a boat.You must wear a lifejacket if you're on a vessel 6 metres or less when it's underway.Check fit by:

• make sure it is the right ratings for your size and weight (look at label on inside of jacket);

• if you can fit more than three fingers under the shoulder, it is too large;

• properly zip and buckle the jacket, if you are unable to do zip or buckle, the jacket is too small;

• with your arms raised, have a friend tug the arm openings gently upwards if the jacket comes past your chin it is too big;

• excess room above the arm openings means the jacket is ill-fitting.

Go to our YouTube channel for videos on wearing life jackets



Minimum Age

No person under the age of 15 years can be in charge of, or propel or navigate a power driven vessel that is capable of a proper speed exceeding 10 knots.*

Download information on looking after your inflatable lifejacket (PDF, 487KB) - From Waikato Regional Council

For more information see "Personal flotation devices" (section 2.1) of the Navigation Safety Bylaw

Safe boating around Marsden Point

If you are boating or fishing around the New Zealand Refining Company at Marsden Point, Whangārei Harbour make sure you stay out of the prohibited area for your own safety and that of the refinery and tankers.

Map of prohibited area around the refinery. 

Rules for passing or meeting boats

Power boats must give way to boats under sail.

Overtaking boats
All boats, sail or power, overtaking from astern (behind) must keep clear until they are well past the boat being overtaken.  The boat in front may not be aware of your presence or intentions.

Overtaking boats.

Power boats meeting head on
Each boat must alter course to starboard (right) to pass on the port (left) side of the other—the opposite to driving on the road.

Power boats meeting head on must alter course.

Power boats meeting on an angle (crossing)
Give way to boats on your starboard (right) side.

Power boats meeting at an angle (crossing) should give way to boats on your starboard (right).

In narrow channels - all boats must:

  • Give ways to ships, as they may not be able to change course or stop easily;
  • Keep as far over to the starboard side of the channel as practicable;
  • Avoid anchoring in a channel; and 
  • Avoid crossing a channel if this prevents a larger boat from doing so that has no room to move.

Within harbour limits:

  • Recreational craft are required to keep clear of ships over 500gt.

Collision prevention rules

To find information about the rules of collision prevention, requirements for the display of navigation lights, safe speed and look-out requirements, download the Maritime Rules Part 22: Collision Prevention from the Maritime New Zealand website.

See and be seen

You must keep a good lookout at all times. It is your responsibility to stay alert for other boats, swimmers, dive boats, hazards and obstacles. Listen as well as look.

Check that you display the correct navigation and anchor lights for your boat's size.

Watch out for ships

Poster displaying the Waitangi Sector Light to keep clear of ships.

Report a boating accident or grounding 

The reporting of boating accidents and groundings helps to improve navigation safety. Accidents do happen, but with knowledge of existing problems, resources can be allocated to improve safety.

The Northland Regional Council installs and maintains the ‘Aids to Navigation’ (buoys, beacons and lights) in the region, and these are provided where they are most needed.

We also provide safety signage and information booklets, and work with other regions, nationally, towards improving safety on the water. Future planning is based on the information we have, so please assist by sending in an accident report form, if applicable.

Notifiable accidents include:

  • Collision, sinking, grounding, stranding, injury to any person, damage to vessel or property; or
  • Any incident that may affect safe navigation, give rise to danger to another person, vessel or property.

Notification can be made at any Northland Regional Council office or by completing a Notification of Maritime Collision or Accident form.

Immediate notification can be made by calling the 24/7 Environmental Hotline on 0800 504 639 

For further information, see the Northland Regional Council Safety Bylaw 2017 section 2.10, or freephone 0800 002 004 and ask to speak to a member of the Maritime Team

Water skiing

Water ski lanes are distinguished by orange and black banded posts and they are set out in most of Northland's harbours. Water skiers must also observe the Navigation Safety Bylaw Provisions. These lanes are exempt from the 5 knot speed limit.

REMEMBER - it takes three to ski...

• The skier
• The driver
• An observer.

Find the Access Lane Maps in our Navigation Safety Bylaw 2017

Jet skis and kayaks

Jet skis

The speed limits and minimum age regulations apply to jet skis as well as all boats.

More information on other watercraft (jetskis) is available in our Boating in Northland booklet.

Council bylaws require that all jet skis used in Northland are registered.
Find out how to register your jet ski in Northland


If you are kayaking, canoeing or using low profile watercraft on Northland's lakes, rivers and seas, make sure you can be seen by other boaties.  

More information on paddle boarding, kiteboarding and kayaking is available in our Boating in Northland booklet.

Be a tidy Kiwi

Think how much you enjoy the clean waters, and help keep them that way by taking your rubbish home with you.

Oil spills
You cannot discharge oil or any other harmful liquids into the sea.


  • Make sure a responsible person supervises any refuelling operation;
  • Keep absorbent material handy to clean up any spill immediately;
  • Mop up any oil substances from the bilge water before pumping your bilge;
  • Dispose of any waste ashore; and 
  • If you are responsible for a spill or notice one, notify the Northland Regional Council immediately.

Report any oil, chemical or fuel spills to the Regional Council's 24/7 Environmental Hotline: 0800 504 639

Who to contact

Northland Regional Council
Report pollution, oil spills, navigation hazards and dangerous boating to 24/7 Environmental Hotline:
0800 504 639

Department of Conservation
Report fishing in marine reserves or marine mammal stranding (whales and dolphins) 0800 362 468

Ministry for Primary Industries
For fishing and shellfish rules or to report a poacher 0800 00 83 33

Biosecurity NZ
To report something out of the ordinary in the water 0800 80 99 66