Learn about your environmental responsibilities and see how they relate to the marine environment.

Environmental rules for recreational boats

Know what you need for your boat to reduce air pollution.

Recreation Boat Rules

New Marine Protection Rules apply to recreational boats used in the sea. Boats that operate only in lakes or rivers do not need to adhere to these rules.

The rules limit the emission of harmful sulphur oxides from fuel use and nitrogen oxides from engines. Both of these harm human health and the marine environment.

If your boat is large or travels to ports overseas other Marine Protection Rules may also apply.


All petrol, diesel or gaseous fuel (CNG/LNG/LPG) sold at retail outlets in New Zealand is now low sulphur fuel to limit the emission of harmful sulphur oxides into the environment. All boats must use low sulphur fuel.


If you are installing an engine over 174 HP on your boat, even if its second hand, you need to make sure that the engine you have installed is compliant with the rules.

If your engine was already installed on your boat at the end of 2022 it doesn’t need to be compliant until 30 June 2032. If the engine was on the boat before 19 May 2005 it probably won’t need to be compliant.

When you replace your engine you can talk to your engine supplier about purchasing a compliant engine and what documents it needs to come with.


New environmental guidelines

a large power boat floats nearby a coastline with the photo show some of the ocean beneath the vessel.

This info sheet outlines what you need for your boat and by when.

New environmental rules for recreational boats [PDF: 361kB, 4 pages]
Tier Flowchart Boat Engines

This info sheet sets out the emissions tier the engine on your boat needs to meet.

NOx emission tiers for engines on recreational boats [PDF: 410kB, 3 pages]


About the environment

The water is our playground, sports arena, holiday spot and a great source of food; protecting it is a shared responsibility.

A close up of a rock shoreline with algae growing on some of the rocks and the water has some gentle rippling on it.

The marine pollution law requires us to respect and care for the marine environment to ensure it is sustained for the future.

For all recreational boaties, this means that we must:

  • correctly dispose of all waste
  • be aware that even small amounts of oil can be fatal to birds and marine life
  • report all oil spills
  • minimise the spread of harmful marine pests

Marine pollution can be caused by sewage and dumping rubbish, as well as oil spills and other harmful substances. Recreational boaties can be fined or prosecuted for offences.


Guidelines for doing your part

You can be fined or prosecuted for offences.

1. Dispose your waste safely

No matter where you are, you must not:

  • throw plastic or synthetic fishing gear overboard
  • discharge untreated sewage into the sea within
    • 500m of the high water mark
    • within 500m of a marine farm
    • in water less than 5m deep
  • discharge treated sewage within 500m of a marine farm or mataitai reserve

Always take cans, bottles, paper and other rubbish back to shore with you. Only minimal amounts of food scraps, cut up into very small pieces, may be thrown overboard and as far out to sea as possible; it must be at least 3 miles from shore.


2. Maintain your boat

Take time to check that your boat is in working condition. Make sure that:

  • the engine does not leak oil or fuel
  • the bilge is kept clean
    • if you have an automatic bilge pump, ensure there is never any floating oil in the bilge
  • water does not leak into your boat
  • you keep a piece of sorbent material underneath the engine to soak up accidental leaks


3. Take precautions when refuelling

To minimise the chances of a spill:

  • prevent an overflow by estimating the amount of fuel you need before you start refuelling
  • plug up the scuppers and breathers on your boat with rags or sorbent material
  • keep sorbent material on the deck of your boat and around the fuel filler to help mop up spills
  • make sure a responsible adult monitors the entire refuelling process
    • do not let children or untrained people refuel your boat
  • never leave the fuel pump unattended
  • refuel at an approved area using a fuel pump
    • avoid transferring fuel to your boat in containers
    • if you must use a container, use a large funnel and poor slowly. Alternatively, you can buy a siphon hose with an integrated pump to reduce spillage
Every drop counts: Preventing fuel and oil spills [PDF: 78kB, 2 pages]

If you own an older two-stroke outboard, you should consider upgrading to a modern low emission (direct injection) two-stroke or four-stroke alternative.

Two-stroke vs. Four-stroke engines [PDF: 123kB, 1 page]

4. Take precautions with antifouling paint

Antifouling paints are useful for preventing a build-up of unwanted organisms on your boat. They are also a key biosecurity tool for preventing indigenous and non-indigenous species from spreading in New Zealand waters.

Antifouling paints, however, are toxic to the aquatic environment and have properties that are harmful to human health.

If you are using antifouling paint, always:

  • read the product label before using antifouling paint
  • wear protective gear to avoid getting paint on your skin or breathing in vapours
  • set up a controlled work area and post signs when you are applying antifouling paint and prevent overspray

Any waste from antifouling paint must be collected and disposed of appropriately. This includes:

  • old paint removed from boats
  • scrapings and sanded material
  • used paint cans
  • rollers
  • trays
  • gloves
  • overalls

All waste material from antifouling paint can still be toxic to people and the environment around you.

Safely using anti-fouling paints [PDF: 4.32MB, 2 pages]

5. Minimise the spread of marine pests

It can be difficult for the untrained eye to tell if the surface of a boat is a biosecurity risk or not. The safest rule of thumb is to ensure that:

  • your boat hull never carries more than a slime layer
  • the slime layer is regularly brushed or wiped off

Your boat should also have a regular clean* out of water and have a liberal coating of antifouling paint.

Ballast water management

If your vessel can carry non-permanent ballast water, and will be going overseas, you may have to ensure that the ballast water management systems onboard meet international standards.

Find out more on ballast water management

* See the guidelines by the Ministry of Primary Industries about cleaning your boat.


Oil spills in your environment

Report any spills you see

Most spills in the recreational boating sector result from careless refuelling or pumping oily bilge water overboard. Diesel and petrol are particularly toxic, but lubricant and hydraulic oils are also very harmful to the marine environment.

If you see an oil spill in coastal waters, report it immediately to your local authority or council. The sooner the council hears about it, the sooner efforts can be made to minimise damage to the environment, other people and wildlife.

About the impact of oil

Related information:

About biofuels

Learn about the use of biofuels in engines.

[PDF: 72kB, 1 page]