Recreational Water Use

Otago waters are used for a wide variety of recreational activities. Whether you're on a paddle board, power boat or anything in between you must know the rules and have the right gear to stay safe.

Maritime New Zealand have some great advice around the basics of recreational boating here.

Whatever your level of experience, before heading out on the water make sure you’ve prepped your vessel, checked your gear, and know the rules. Have a plan of action before you head out to make sure you get home safe.



Always follow the five key messages from the Boating Safety Code:

  • Wear your life jacket
  • Take two waterproof ways to call for help
  • Check the marine weather forecast
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Be a responsible skipper


Always make a plan when you’re heading out on the water.

Check your vessel and equipment, know the rules and conditions and stay safe on the water.

The skipper is responsible for everyone on board’s safety. Know the rules, don’t take chances, avoid alcohol and stay safe on the water.


Lifejackets, also known as Personal flotation devices (PFDs) and buoyancy vests — come in a variety of designs and sizes. It’s important to wear the right one in the right situation, as it could save your life. 

Lifejackets provide more than flotation. A good lifejacket will help to keep the head and airway clear of the water, even when strength and mental capacity begin to wane. It will also make adopting heat-loss reducing postures easier. Find out more from Maritime New Zealand.

Our rules state that:

  • You must have enough lifejackets/PFDs for each person on board at all times the vessel is underway, and those PFDs must be:
    • Readily accessible
    • The right size for each person on board
    • Suitable for the activity you’re undertaking
    • In good operative condition
  • Everyone on a vessel of six metres or less in length must wear lifejackets/PFDs at all times.


All recreational boaties should carry two forms of waterproof communication when you’re on the water. Check they work where you are boating.

Remember: If you can’t be heard, you can’t be helped.

Click here for key contacts in Otago.


Certain types of communication are more effective in different areas, so prepare for your surroundings.

There are three broad categories of communication equipment:

  1. Those that use satellites – especially emergency locator beacons and satellite phones.
  2. Those that use land-based stations – especially marine radio and mobile phones.
  3. Those that rely on audio or visual signals – including flares, lights, whistles, and horns.

Satellite Emergency Distress Beacons

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) or Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) are forms of emergency locator beacons, they provide the most reliable way of signalling a distress situation. They provide a one-way indication of distress and a boat’s location directly to Search and Rescue authorities anywhere in the world and are suitable for vessels at sea and on inland waterways. Other than the initial purchase, Emergency Distress Beacons are free. They must be registered at

EPIRBs, being slightly bulkier, are designed specifically for boats, ships and other activities on water and can float with their antenna above the water. PLBs are designed more for land usage. While all PLBs are waterproof, most cannot float with their antenna out of the water and they have a shorter battery life than an EPIRB.

VHF radios

A VHF radio is designed to operate in the marine environment and is used extensively as a communications tool by the coastal boating community. A 24/7 distress and safety radio service is provided by Maritime New Zealand, which monitors the international channel 16 distress channel. Coastguard New Zealand also provides coverage around large parts of the coast.

VHF radio users are required to hold a Maritime Radio Operator’s Certificate and have an individual call-sign, with courses and call-sign information available from (these are not required, unless you are making a distress or emergency call on channel 16). A call-sign allows the Search and Rescue sector to quickly access the contact details you have provided.

Maritime New Zealand’s Radio Handbook has more information on maritime communication.

Mobile phones

Almost everyone carries a mobile phone these days but these are generally only helpful if kept dry and when you are close to land. Keep yours in a sealed waterproof bag, in a secure location. Save the battery for essential communication. You can call 111 if in distress. Be aware that you may not have cell phone coverage so always take another form of communication. Unlike maritime radio, a mobile phone does not allow a boatie in distress to broadcast for help to other boaties that might be in the vicinity.

Phones are nevertheless a very useful safety communications back-up tool, particularly given their almost universal carriage.


Pyrotechnic flares and waterproof torches are widely recognised and, where practical, may be considered for inclusion in an emergency communication kit.

The major limitations of flares are that they are dependent on other boaties in the vicinity (or people on shore) seeing them during the relatively short time they are alight, understanding what they mean, and knowing how to respond.

Whistles, horns, and mirrors

There are a range of other signalling devices that can be used for communication, including a whistle, manual horn (aerosol canister, rechargeable, powered), mirror etc. Like flares, they are very reliant on someone being able to see or hear the distress signal, knowing what it means, and then being able to act on it.

Knowing the weather and tide conditions can make all the difference to your day out on our harbours and lakes.

It’s important to respect the weather.  No matter what craft you are on, you should always check the marine weather forecast and know the tide times before you head out. Land and general forecasts do not take into account wind speed over water (which is double that over land) or the waves or swell.

Here are some helpful sources for marine weather forecasts.

  • Maritime radio – the MNZ maritime radio service provides forecasts at scheduled times. These are announced on Channel 16 at 0133, 0533, 0733, 1333, 1733 and 2133 hours (New Zealand Local Time).
  • Coastguard on VHF radio – on your local Coastguard channel, including NowCasting continuous broadcasts on Channels 20, 21, 22 and 23, in many recreational boating adverts.
  • Port Otago – Wind, tide, rain and air pressure for Otago Harbour and surrounds.
  • MetPhone – dial 0900 999 + your map area number.
  • MarineMate app - Made for New Zealand boaties, MarineMate is a smartphone app that allows you to access information on tide times, boat ramp locations, VHF channels, and local boating rules for the whole country, all at the palm of your hand.
  • MetService Marine app – MetService New Zealand marine forecasts are now available in a handy smartphone app. The app is free of charge thanks to sponsorship by Maritime NZ.
  • MetService Marine website - New Zealand marine weather forecasts, maps, rain radar and current conditions.
  • Tide Forecast - Accurate tide times for sailors, fishermen and water sports enthusiasts. Animated tide charts for thousands of ports, harbours and popular coastal locations around the World.

If in doubt, don’t go out!

A large proportion of accidents involving small vessels are weather related. Bad weather makes the environment onboard a vessel extremely hazardous. It also places a lot of strain on the vessel’s structure and equipment and the people on board.

It is important to respect the weather at sea. Skippers should make sure they understand the different parts of a weather forecast and the best way to find up-to-date local information.

All vessels using Otago waterways, must have a unique identifying name or number displayed above the waterline on each side of the vessel.

If your vessel is under six metres in length (e.g. paddle crafts, kayaks) it must still be marked with the owner’s name and contact details somewhere on the vessel.

There are two main reasons for having this identification:

  • It allows people to provide identification to the Harbourmaster’s Office when they are reporting concerns with boating behaviour.
  • It provides a starting point for locating the owners of any washed-up vessels.

Many other regional councils throughout New Zealand require boat identification; this is a simple and cost-effective method to identify boat owners.

If you’re unsure – ask us by emailing  

For full information, read the Otago Navigation Safety Bylaws (section 15).

Ensure your safety when out on the water by following this essential equipment checklist:

  • Fire extinguisher
  • Anchor
  • Boat hook
  • Bailing device
  • Kill cord for open powerboats
  • Torch and spare battery
  • Throwline
  • Spare fuel
  • Knife
  • First aid kit
  • Lifejackets - correctly fitting lifejacket for everyone on board
  • Two forms of waterproof communications - this can include an EPIRB or PLB, VHF radio, cell phone in a waterproof bag, flares
  • Navigation equipment – a chart and compass, GPS and depth sounder. Exactly what you need will depend on how far out you’re going
  • Alternative form of propulsion such as a set of oars.
  • Protective clothing – carry sufficient warm and waterproof clothing for your trip
  • Sunblock

Bar crossings can be dangerous for even the most experienced skippers. It’s important to have the right local knowledge and skills before going out.

Have a plan in place, you can check out Maritime New Zealand’s guidance here before going out.

A bar is a build-up of sand at the entrance of a river estuary. Bars can be dangerous to cross, regardless of whether you are boating novice or expert. 



Before crossing the bar:

  • Visually check the bar conditions from a high viewpoint
  • If you’re not familiar with the area, ask a local for advice
  • Know your boat and your limits
  • Check the marine weather forecast and tides, for when you’re going out and coming back
  • Avoid low water and ebb tides, if possible
  • Ensure heavy items like dive tanks are secured, and hatches are closed
  • Wear your lifejacket and have lifesaving appliances handy
  • Check your fuel, steering and ensure your motor is in good mechanical condition and warmed up
  • Contact VHF Ch 16, 62 or 64 before crossing and again when you’re safely across
  • On approach, assess the conditions on the bar

Click here to view the Taieri Mouth Bar camera.

Otago has some great spots for kayaking and paddling, here are some tips to keep you safe when you head out on the water.


  • Take the right equipment including a correctly sized lifejacket, a waterproof communications device, a pump, spray skirt
  • Check the weather forecast before heading out
  • Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back
  • Never canoe or kayak alone
  • Make sure you'll be clearly visible to other craft on the water
  • Know your limitations
  • Talk to a local if you're paddling in a new area - contact the local canoe/kayak retailer or local coastguard unit

Your kayak must be marked with emergency contact details that are clearly visible.

  • You could write with waterproof marker
  • Laminate a card and attach it
  • Write on waterproof tape


  • Take the right equipment including a correctly sized lifejacket, a waterproof communications device
  • Check the weather forecast before heading out
  • Consider using a leash, this will keep you and your board together
  • Avoid areas with heavy boat traffic, strong currents, and dangerous outcroppings
  • Keep a safe distance from swimmers
  • Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back

Paddling at night

Maritime rules require kayakers to carry a torch to prevent collision. However, holding a torch may prevent you from paddling effectively and therefore being seen! Wearing a head torch allows your arms to be free to paddle. Or, mounting an all-round white light on your rear deck above head-height means you will be visible from all directions.

Maritime NZ’s Paddle Craft Guide has some helpful tips to stay safe on the water.

The basics

  1. Wear a correct sized lifejacket
  2. Avoid alcohol while riding
  3. Keep a good lookout for boats and ride with consideration to other water users
  4. Know your survival techniques
  5. Always carry two forms of waterproof communication
  6. Use the kill cord
  7. An identifying name or number needs to be displayed and visible above the water line

You must be at least 15 years of age to operate a jet ski by yourself. However, someone under the age of 15 can operate one if they are being actively supervised by an adult – this means within immediate reach of the craft’s controls, for example, on the back with the lanyard round their wrist.


Stick to 5 knots (about 9km/h) within:

  • 200m of the shore or a boat displaying a divers' flag
  • 50m of any other boat or other people who are swimming


Boats and other commercial and fishing vessels always have the right of way. When approaching another vessel head-on, you must always keep right (you should pass one another with both left sides of the vessels facing each other). If a vessel is crossing your path coming from your right side, you should always slow down and let it pass first. You should also do the same for non-powered vessels like canoes, kayaks, and sailboats.

Keeping distance

You must maintain a safe distance of 50 metres from people in the water and non-powered vessels, and 50 metres from any of the following: 1) boats anchored, moored or aground; 2) a boat ramp, wharf, pontoon, or jetty within 50m of people in the water; and 3) powered boats.


Having fun on the water should not come at the expense of the environment. This doesn’t involve just litter, but also spilling oil or fuel. Steer clear of marine mammals and be sensitive to aquatic animals.

For more information

Jetski etiquette and safety

Jetski information and resources


It takes three to ski

The driver, the skier and the spotter. If you’re towing someone behind your boat, Jetski or other personal watercraft, whether they’re on skis, a wakeboard or biscuit, you must have an observer aged 10 or over who can communicate the actions of the person being towed.

The rules

  • You must not tow anyone over 5 knots if you are:
    • Within 50 metres of another vessel, raft or person in the water
    • Within 200 metres of the shore or of any structure
    • Within 200 metres of any vessel or raft that is flying a diver’s flag
  • You must not continue onwards after the person being towed has been dropped
  • You must have a lookout (over the age of 10) when towing over 5 knots
  • You must not tow someone at night, only between sunrise and sunset


Limits for water skiing are uplifted in some reserved areas.

Freshwater pests can be spread by your activities in and around waterways. If you're moving between waterways, you must clean all your gear using the 'Check, Clean, Dry' method.

The Check, Clean, Dry method

To prevent the spread of freshwater pests (like didymo), whenever you move between waterways you must check, clean and dry all your gear that comes into contact with water. If you don't want to treat your gear, make sure you only use it in one waterway.


Remove any plant matter from your gear and leave it at the site (the river or lake bank), or put it in the rubbish. Don't wash plant material down any drain.


There's more than one option for cleaning your gear – choose the one that's best for your situation and your gear.


Ensure your gear is completely dry to touch, inside and out, then leave dry for at least another 48 hours before you use it (didymo can survive for months on moist gear).

Clean boats and trailers thoroughly, both inside and out, for at least one minute with a cleaning solution (from the cleaning options table).

Take particular care with the following:

  • Jet boat grate: Remove visible clumps of algae from the grate and flush the system with solution.
  • Jet unit: Open ball valve at bottom of sand trap, remove any residue and flush system with solution.
  • Outboard motor: Flush the cooling system out with solution. You can then flush it again with town water.
  • Boat interior including anchor recess: Remove bungs to get rid of excess water, then wash the inside with solution.
  • Bilge pump: Flush inside boat with solution, then use the bilge pump to remove before bungs are opened.
  • Absorbent parts such as mats, carpet (including on trailer), anchor rope: Thoroughly soak with solution allowing extra time to fully soak through.

Treat all kayaks, canoes, dinghies, and related equipment with a treatment solution or by drying.

If you use a cleaning solution:

  • Scrub or spray all exterior parts of the craft with treatment solution, for at least one minute
  • Fill the inside with solution, and put all associated equipment (gear and clothing) into it
  • Immerse equipment completely and soak to saturate any absorbent items
  • Rinse after treatment with town water supply.

Find out more here.

It is important to monitor your wash and wake when boating.


It is important that you use a killcord when boating. 

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