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Skipper responsibilities

Every boat, no matter how big or small, must have a skipper. The skipper is legally responsible for the safety of the boat and all the people on board, and is also responsible for complying with all the relevant rules and regulations.

Even though no licence is required to operate a pleasure boat in New Zealand, ignorance of any maritime rules or regional bylaws is not accepted as an excuse. Failure to comply can lead to fines or prosecution.

Before you undertake any form of boating activity, we recommend you undertake some form of boating education and understand the “rules of the road on the water”.

What ALL skippers should know to stay safe on the water

  • Every boat has to have the right sized lifejacket for each person on board, and for boats under 6 metres they have to be worn unless the skipper decides that the risk is very low at the time.
  • Get a marine weather forecast before you head out and listen for regular updates while you are out.
  • Carry at least two means of communicating distress on you, and for boats under 6 metres, these need to withstand immersion.
  • Leave details of your trip and boat with a responsible person ashore, detailing where you are going, how many people you have on board, and when you expect to return.
  • If you have a VHF radio, make a trip report and stay in contact with Maritime Radio, or the local Coastguard or marine radio service.
  • Avoid alcohol or limit its intake – alcohol impairs judgement and the ability to survive in an emergency.

For more on skipper responsibility, watch the clip on our Boatsafetyinnnz channel on YouTube

Skippers role: preparation and planning [MNZ's Boatsafetyinnz YouTube channel]

Rules of the road on the water for ALL boats

There are some rules that apply to everyone on the water, no matter what sort of boat you are operating:

  • keep a proper lookout – watch where you are going at all times
  • keep to a safe speed –  this means slowing down in situations where you may find it difficult to see another boat, eg in waves, rain, or fog, or when there is glare on the water
  • understand and operate within the speed limits – the maximum speed permitted for all boats in New Zealand is 5 knots (about 9 km/h) within 200 metres of shore or any boat with a dive flag, and within 50 metres of any other boat or swimmer
  • know what to do when two boats meet – one boat has the right of way and the other boat is the give way boat:
    • when you give way, always try to pass behind the other boat
    • above all, make your intentions clear – make substantial alterations to your direction and be prepared to slow right down or stop if you are in doubt 
    • if the give way boat fails to give way, you must make every effort to avoid a collision
    • keep to starboard (“drive on the right”) in channels
    • any boat approaching another from behind is considered to be overtaking, and must keep clear of the boat it is passing.

Special rules for powerboats – Maritime Rules Part 22: Collision Prevention

For more on rules of the road on the water, watch the clip on our Boatsafetyinnnz channel on YouTube

Navigational rules of the road [MNZ's Boatsafetyinnz YouTube channel]

Other useful clips for skippers and boaties:

The Boating Safety Code - 5 Simple rules [MNZ's Boatsafetyinnz YouTube channel]

Lifejackets: Choosing the right one to wear!

Safety equipment on board

Check the weather

Navigational rules of the road

Safe speeds and lookout

Boats near big ships