Otago Harbour boating guide

Follow the rules of the boating guide to enjoy sailing and watersports on Otago Harbour in safety.

Download the Otago Harbour boating guide (3 MB)

Safer Boating - before going boating anywhere, whether on the harbour or in our lakes or rivers, you need to be prepared. Maritime New Zealand has some great resources available on their website advising how you and your family and friends can stay safe, and particularly the importance of wearing lifejackets.

Safer boating information
Lifejacket information

On this page

General boat safety
Safety in Otago Harbour
To avoid a collision
Small boat accidents
About Otago Harbour
Navigation lights

General boat safety

  • Watch the weather
  • Don't overload
  • Wear tested lifejackets (vessels under 6m) 
  • Carry full equipment
  • Ensure engine reliability and carry reserve fuel
  • Keep a good lookout
  • Know the:
    • Otago Regional Council harbour bylaws
    • Collision regulations
    • General harbour regulations (nautical and miscellaneous)
    • Distress signals
  • Guard against fire
  • Don't mix drinking and boating
  • Tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return

For more information on boating safety, see the publication "Safety in Small Craft", obtainable from chart agencies and boating shops.

Safety in Otago Harbour


  • Anchor in or near the channels
  • Drift in or near the channels
  • Tie up or secure to a beacon
  • Place setnets in or near the channels


  • Keep to the starboard (right hand) side of channels
  • Ensure that all motor boat exhausts are efficiently silenced
  • Have the name of your boat prominently and permanently marked
  • Show proper navigation lights
  • Be aware of tides and their effects
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Do not travel at speeds greater than 5 knots within:

  • 200 metres of shore
  • 50 metres of anyone swimming or fishing
  • 50 metres of any other vessel, whether moored or underway
  • 200 metres of an "International Code A" flag
  • Any waterway less than 400 metres wide

The driver of any power boat capable of speeds in excess of 10 knots must be over 15 years old.

Do not exceed 25 knots within Otago Harbour.

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To avoid a collision

Do not approach within 50 metres of the LPG berth or any vessel moored alongside.

Approach the passage between Goat and Quarantine Islands with caution there may be a ship coming the other way. Dangerous tides also occur in this area.

Do not hamper the navigation and passage of large ships as they have a restricted ability to manoeuvre and stop. If in doubt give way. This applies to all craft including windsurfers, jet skis, rowers, yachts and powerboats.

Windsurfers, for your own safety, keep out of the main channel.

Remember - respect and consideration for others will enable everyone to use and enjoy the whole harbour.

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Small boat accidents

After every small boat accident, a report must be submitted to Maritime NZ by the people involved. User friendly accident report forms are available from the Otago Harbourmaster and the Dunedin office of the Maritime NZ. The accident report form is also available from the Maritime NZ website.

These reports play a valuable role in maritime education and the creation of safer boating environments for everyone. The information they contain helps identify significant trends in boating accidents, as well as the development of maritime notices and rules.

Any damage to harbour navigational aids or other harbour structures must also be reported to the Otago Regional Council Harbourmaster as soon as possible after the accident.  Phone 0800 800 033.


Vessels over 11 metres in length must contact Otago Harbour Control before proceeding into the Victoria Channel (Upper Harbour). Harbour control may be contacted by phoning 021 2298 882 or on VHF Channels 16 (calling channel) and 14 (working channel)


It is illegal to dispose of many materials and substances from ships and boats into the sea, such as oil, sewage, garbage and noxious liquid substances. Only specified discharges under controlled conditions are permitted.

A pamphlet on marine disposal prepared by the Maritime NZ is available from our Dunedin office, 70 Stafford St.

If you do see pollution in Otago Harbour, please call the ORC Pollution Hotline – 0800 800 033

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About Otago Harbour


The Otago Harbour is 22km long with an average width of 2.3km. Divided into two parts by the peninsulas at Port Chalmers and Portobello, and Quarantine and Goat Islands, the two areas are referred to as the Upper Harbour (between Dunedin and the islands) and the Lower Harbour.

Otago Harbour is dominated by a deep main channel which runs almost its entire length. While the Lower Harbour Channel is dredged to a minimum depth of 12.2m and minimum width of 180m, the Upper Harbour Channel is 7.6m deep and 76m wide. More commonly referred to as "Victoria Channel", the Upper Harbour Channel has a rock training wall for nearly 10km along its eastern side which is submerged at high tide. A smaller undredged channel, the Eastern Channel provides access for small craft from Victoria Channel through to the eastern side of the Upper Harbour. It is marked with a series of piles identified by the letters A-T.

Winds and tides

The exchange of waters in the Lower Harbour is almost total in each tidal cycle and strong currents near the narrow entrance and the main channel mean all harbour users must ensure they are safely equipped at all times. About 30% of Otago Harbour is intertidal, resulting in sand banks appearing in some areas at low tide. This means caution is required when moving into shallower areas.

Waves within the harbour are wind generated and are dominated by N & NE, S & SW directions. During summer a NE sea breeze is often generated during the afternoon and can become quite fresh. Water temperatures within the harbour typically vary between 9ºC and 12ºC. All users should be aware of the risk of hypothermia and take appropriate precautions.


A number of fishing restrictions apply within Otago Harbour. For information on these contact the Ministry of Primary Industries and the Otago Fish and Game Council.

Navigation lights

Navigation lights required on power driven vessels operating on water by night (sunset to sunrise) and in times of reduced visibility are shown below. Refer to the Shipping (Distress Signals & Prevention or Collisions) Regulations 1988, for full details.

avoiding collision


To contact Otago Regional Council harbourmaster staff for general safety and navigation advice, permission to stage events, and in cases of conflict over harbour use:

Email:   harbourmaster@orc.govt.nz
Phone:  0800 474 082
After hours:  0800 800 033

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Otago Regional Council

70 Stafford Street
Private Bag 1954
Dunedin 9054

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