Rules on the water

It is your responsibility to know and understand the rules before heading out.

On this page:

1. Listen and look ahead

You must keep a good lookout at all times.

It is your responsibility to stay alert for other boats, swimmers, dive boats, kayaks, hazards and obstacles. Keep focused on the water ahead, especially when travelling at speed.

2. Keep a safe speed

Travel at a safe speed, taking into account the boat traffic in the area, weather conditions and when visibility is limited.

Maritime New Zealand ©2023
Operate at a speed that allows for the time and distance necessary to avoid a collision.

You must not exceed a speed of 5 knots (a fast walking speed) if you are:

  • within 200m of the shore
  • within 200m of any structure
  • within 200m of a boat displaying a diver’s flag
  • within 50m of any other boat
  • within 50m of a person swimming
  • on a power boat if any person has any part of their body outside the rails or edge of the deck.

You must be over 15 years old to operate any water craft capable of exceeding 10 knots, unless there is close supervision by an older person who is constantly within reach of the controls.

Always check the effect of your wake. You must not create a wake that causes unnecessary danger to other boats or people.

3. Respect the give way rules

When two boats are approaching each other, one has the right of way. The other boat must give way and pass astern (behind). To determine who has right of way, consider the vessel type:

Give way rules for powerboats and personal water craft (PWC) users.

If power meets power

Powerboats must giveway to those on the starboard (right) side

When meeting head on, powerboats must turn starboard

Give way rules for powerboats, paddle craft, rowing boats and sailing vessels.

If power meets sail, paddle or rowing craft

With exception to specific displays, powerboats must give way unless the craft is overtaking

Give way rules for sail boats.

If sail meets sail

A sailing boat must give way to another sailing boat if the wind is blowing from its port (left) side or if it is windward (upwind) to the other sailing boat.

Make early and obvious manoeuvres so there is no confusion. If the give way boat fails to give way, you must make every effort to avoid a collision. Be prepared to make substantial alterations to your direction and to slow right down or stop.

About collision prevention

4. Give way when overtaking

If you approach another vessel in a 135° sector at its stern, you are considered to be overtaking and must give way.

Give way when overtaking.

5. Keep clear of big ships

Keep clear from the bows and paths of larger vessels.

Large vessels cannot alter their course quickly.

Recreational boats near big ships

Maritime New Zealand ©2023

See the dangers of big ships.

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If you are in a channel or harbour, you must:

  • keep to the starboard (right) side of any channel
  • keep clear of larger vessels that are restricted by channels
  • not anchor in a channel or anywhere that could be dangerous to other craft
  • stay at least 500m clear when ahead of any large ship
  • stay 200m away from the sides and stern of tankers.

Large vessels have restricted maneuverability and limited visibility from the bridge.

Related information:
A sticker guide for your vessel.

Know the rules

Get a sticker guide illustrating the give-way rules for all vessels.
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Get a quick visual guide for your vessel.

Crossing the bar

This sticker offers safety tips for bar crossings.

[PDF: 32KB, 1 page]

Boating clubs and organisations can organise  racing, time trials, regattas and more in their local waterways.

Maritime events

Find the requirements, information and application details for planning a boat race, rally or regatta.

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