Waka ama

Waka, or outrigger canoes, are part of the culture of Pacific people. In recent years, it has grown in popularity as a recreational activity and sport.

Before paddlers or kaihoe head out, cover the basics of safety

Maritime NZ
Know the Waka ama safety basics


Know your responsibilities as a skipper or kaihautu of a waka

A skipper (kaihautu) must be designated before every voyage. If a skipper is not designated, then the person steering the waka is considered to be the skipper.

The skipper or kaihāutu is responsible for assessing any risks to the vessel and the crew and must:

  • know the crew’s paddling and swimming capabilities, including any medical conditions
  • inform someone about the crew’s paddling plan
  • check that all paddlers have the right gear
    • a spray skirt, if required by the conditions
    • each paddler must have a lifejacket or PFD that fits
    • all paddlers must be appropriately dressed for the conditions
  • understand weather forecasts and local conditions

Among a skipper’s responsibilities, he or she also carries the burden of responsibility for his or her decisions and is legally responsible if there is an incident.

Be a responsible skipper

History of waka in New Zealand

Waka ama, or outrigger canoes, are part of the culture of Pacific people. In recent years, they have become a popular pass time.

Waka History

After Aotearoa New Zealand was settled by the first Polynesian voyagers, waka design and use went through a number of evolutionary stages. The different trees available here and their huge size meant that waka in this country eventually became single-hulled and did not need an outrigger float, or ama, to keep their hulls upright.

Gradually, over hundreds of years, waka ama went into decline in Aotearoa. But during the 20th century, Māori travelling to Pacific islands such as Hawaii and Tahiti observed the continuing tradition of waka ama racing, and in the mid-1980s waka ama began to be revived here. Hosting the world championships in Aotearoa in 1990 rekindled the flame, and the sport has grown to the extent that many people from different cultures are now sharing in this special part of the history and traditions of their ancestors.

As the numbers participating have grown, so too has the need to address safety and wellbeing. Relationships forged between Maritime New Zealand (MNZ) and groups such as the Ngā Waka Federation, have enabled the development of rules to help the paddlers of Aotearoa use waka ama safely.

Related information:

Waka ama guide

A quick guide for waka skippers and paddlers.

[PDF: 721KB, 34 pages]


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