Recreational Water Use

Otago waters are used for a wide variety of recreational activities. Whether you're on a paddle board, power boat or anything in between you must know the rules and have the right gear to stay safe.

Maritime New Zealand have some great advice around the basics of recreational boating here.

Whatever your level of experience, before heading out on the water make sure you’ve prepped your vessel, checked your gear, and know the rules. Have a plan of action before you head out to make sure you get home safe.



Always follow the five key messages from the Boating Safety Code:

  • Wear your life jacket
  • Take two waterproof ways to call for help
  • Check the marine weather forecast
  • Avoid alcohol
  • Be a responsible skipper


Always make a plan when you’re heading out on the water. This page sets out the things you should consider.

Check your vessel and equipment, know the rules and conditions and stay safe on the water.

The skipper is responsible for the safety of everyone on board. Know the rules, don’t take chances, avoid alcohol and stay safe on the water.


Lifejackets – also known as personal flotation devices (PFDs), and buoyancy vests – come in a variety of designs and sizes. It’s important to wear the right one in the right situation. It could save your life. All life jackets and PFDs should meet the NZ5823 standards.

Lifejackets do more than help you float. A good lifejacket will turn you on your back and help to keep your head and airway clear of the water even if your strength wanes or you become unconscious. It will also make it easier for you to stay in a position that reduces heat loss. Find out more from

Our rules state that you must have enough lifejackets/PFDs for every person on board whenever the vessel is underway. PFDs must be:

  • readily accessible
  • the right size for each person on board
  • suitable for the activity you’re undertaking
  • in good working condition.

If your vessel is less than six metres long, everyone on board must wear a lifejacket/PFD at all times.


All recreational boaties should carry two forms of waterproof communication when you’re on the water. Check they work where you are boating.

Remember: If you can’t be heard, you can’t be helped.

Click here for key contacts in Otago.


Certain types of communication are more effective in different areas, so prepare for your surroundings.

There are three broad categories of communication equipment:

  1. Those that use satellites – especially emergency locator beacons and satellite phones.
  2. Those that use land-based stations – especially marine radio and mobile phones.
  3. Those that rely on audio or visual signals – including flares, lights, whistles, and horns.

Satellite emergency distress beacons

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) or Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) are forms of emergency locator beacons and are the most reliable way to signal a distress situation. They send an indication that your boat is in distress and where it is directly to Search and Rescue authorities anywhere in the world. They suit vessels at sea and on inland waterways. Other than the initial purchase, emergency distress beacons are free to use. They must be registered at

EPIRBs, being slightly bulkier, are designed specifically for boats, ships and other activities on water. They can float with their antenna above the water. PLBs are designed more for use on land. While PLBs are waterproof, most cannot float with their antenna out of the water, and they have a shorter battery life than an EPIRB.

VHF radios

A VHF radio is designed to work in the marine environment. The coastal boating community use them extensively for communication. Maritime New Zealand provides a 24/7 distress and safety radio service, which monitors the international CH 16 distress channel. Coastguard New Zealand also provides coverage around large parts of the coast.
VHF radio users should hold a Maritime Radio Operator’s Certificate and have an individual call-sign. Courses and call-sign information are available from (these are not required, unless you are making a distress or emergency call on channel 16). A call-sign allows the Search and Rescue sector to quickly access your contact details.

More information on maritime communication is in the Radio Handbook from

Mobile phones

Almost everyone carries a mobile phone, but these are only helpful if they are kept dry and you’re close to land. Keep your phone in a sealed waterproof bag in a secure location. Save the battery for essential communication. You can call 111 if in distress. Be aware that you may not have cell phone coverage so always take another form of waterproof communication. Unlike maritime radio, a mobile phone does not allow a boatie in distress to broadcast for help to other boaties in the area.

Phones are nevertheless a useful back-up for safety communications.


Pyrotechnic flares and waterproof torches are widely recognised. If it’s practical, you should consider including them in your emergency communication kit.

The major limitation of flares is that they depend on rescuers seeing them and other people understanding what they are and what they mean.

Whistles, horns, and mirrors

You can use other signalling devices for communication, such as a whistle, manual horn (aerosol canister, rechargeable, powered), mirror etc. Like flares, they rely on someone seeing or hearing them, knowing what it means, and being able to act on it.

Knowing the weather and tide conditions can make all the difference to your day out on our harbours and lakes.

It’s important to respect the weather. No matter what craft you are on, you should always check the marine weather forecast and know the tide times before you head out. Land and general forecasts do not take into account the wind speed over water, the waves or swell.

Here are some helpful sources for marine weather forecasts.

Here are some helpful sources for marine weather forecasts.

  • Maritime radio – The MNZ maritime radio service provides forecasts at scheduled times. These are announced on Channel 16 at 0133, 0533, 0733, 1333, 1733 and 2133 hours (New Zealand local time)
  • Coastguard on VHF radio – On your local Coastguard channel, including NowCasting continuous broadcasts on Channels 20, 21, 22 and 23, in many recreational boating adverts
  • Port Otago – Wind, tide, rain and air pressure for Otago Harbour and surrounds
  • MarineMate  – Made for New Zealand boaties, MarineMate is a smartphone app that gives you information on tide times, boat ramp locations, VHF channels, and local boating rules for the whole country
  • MetService Marine app – MetService New Zealand marine forecasts are now available in a free smartphone app
  • MetService Marine website – New Zealand marine weather forecasts, maps, rain radar and current conditions
  • Tide Forecast – Accurate tide times for sailors, fishermen and water sports enthusiasts. Animated tide charts for thousands of ports, harbours and popular coastal locations around the world

If in doubt, don’t go out!

Many accidents involving small vessels are related to the weather. Bad weather makes the environment onboard a vessel extremely hazardous. It also places a lot of strain on the vessel’s structure and equipment and the people on board.

It is important to respect the weather at sea. Skippers should make sure they understand the different parts of a weather forecast and the best way to find up-to-date local information.

All vessels using Otago waterways must have a unique identifying name or number displayed above the waterline on each side of the vessel.

Paddle craft and other recreational craft must be marked with a name and contact details.

Having this identification:

  • allows people to provide identification to the Harbourmaster’s Office when they report concerns with boating behaviour.
  • provides a starting point for locating the owners of any washed-up vessels.

Many other regional councils throughout New Zealand require boat identification – this is a simple and cost-effective way to identify boat owners.

If you’re unsure – ask us by emailing  

For full information, read the Otago Navigation Safety Bylaws (section 15).

Stay safe on the water by making sure you have everything on this list:

  • Fire extinguisher
  • Anchor
  • Boat hook
  • Bailing device
  • Kill cord for open powerboats
  • Torch and spare battery
  • Throwline
  • Spare fuel
  • Knife
  • First aid kit
  • Lifejackets – correctly fitting lifejacket for everyone on board
  • Two forms of waterproof communications – this can include an EPIRB or PLB, VHF radio, cellphone in a waterproof bag, flares
  • Navigation equipment – a chart and compass, GPS and depth sounder (exactly what you need will depend on how far out you’re going)
  • Alternative form of propulsion such as a set of oars
  • Protective clothing – carry enough warm and waterproof clothing for your trip
  • Sunblock

A bar is a build-up of sand at the entrance of a river estuary. Bar crossings can be dangerous for even the most experienced skippers. It’s important to have the right local knowledge and skills before going out.

Have a plan in place. has the "Crossing the Bar" guide to review before going out.

Here's what to do before you cross a bar:

  • Know your boat and your limits
  • Check the bar conditions from a high viewpoint
  • Ask a local for advice if you’re not familiar with the area
  • Check the marine weather forecast and tides, for when you’re going out and coming back
  • Avoid low water and ebb tides, if possible
  • Wear your lifejacket and have lifesaving appliances handy
  • Secure heavy items like dive tanks and close hatches
  • Check your fuel and steering, and make sure your motor is in good mechanical condition and warmed up
  • Contact VHF Ch 16, 60 or 64 before crossing and again when you’re safely across
  • Assess the conditions on the bar as you approach.

Click here to view the Taieri Mouth Bar camera.

Otago has some great spots for kayaking and paddling. Here are some tips to keep you safe when you head out on the water.


  • Take the right equipment, including a correctly sized lifejacket, a waterproof communications device, a pump and a spray skirt
  • Check the weather forecast before heading out
  • Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back
  • Never canoe or kayak alone
  • Make sure you’ll be clearly visible to other craft on the water
  • Know your limitations
  • Talk to a local if you’re paddling in a new area – contact the local canoe/kayak retailer or local coastguard unit

Your kayak must be clearly marked with emergency contact details:

  • Write with waterproof marker
  • Laminate a card and attach it
  • Write on waterproof tape


  • Take the right equipment, including a correctly sized lifejacket and a waterproof communications device
  • Check the weather forecast before heading out
  • Consider using a leash to keep you and your board together
  • Avoid areas with heavy boat traffic, strong currents and dangerous outcrops
  • Keep a safe distance from swimmers
  • Let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back

Paddling at night

Maritime rules require kayakers to carry a torch to prevent collision. However, holding a torch may prevent you from paddling effectively and therefore being seen! Wearing a head torch keeps your arms free to paddle. Or mount an all-round white light on your rear deck above head height so you are visible from all directions. has some helpful tips to stay safe on the water in their "Paddle craft guide".

  • Wear a correctly sized lifejacket.
  • Avoid alcohol while riding.
  • Keep a good lookout for boats, and ride with consideration for other water users.
  • Know your survival techniques.
  • Always carry two forms of waterproof communication.
  • Use the kill cord.
  • Display an identifying name or number clearly above the water line.

You must be at least 15 years of age to operate a jet ski by yourself. However, someone under the age of 15 can operate one if they are being actively supervised by an adult – this means within immediate reach of the craft’s controls, for example, on the back with the lanyard round their wrist.


Stick to 5 knots (about 9km/h) within:

  • 200m of the shore or a boat displaying a divers’ flag
  • 50m of any other boat or other people who are swimming.


Boats and other commercial and fishing vessels always have the right of way. When approaching another vessel head-on, you must always keep right (you should pass one another with both left sides of the vessels facing each other). If a vessel is crossing your path from your right side, you should always slow down and let it pass first. You should do the same for non-powered vessels like canoes, kayaks and sailboats.

Keeping distance

You must maintain a safe distance of 50 metres from people in the water and non-powered vessels, and 50 metres from:

  • boats anchored, moored or aground
  • a boat ramp, wharf, pontoon, or jetty within 50m of people in the water
  • powered boats.


Having fun on the water should not come at the expense of the environment. This doesn’t involve just litter, but also spilling oil or fuel. Steer clear of marine mammals and be sensitive to aquatic animals.

For more information

Jetski etiquette and safety:
Jetski information and resources:

It takes three to ski

The driver, the skier and the spotter.

If you’re towing someone behind your boat, Jetski or other personal watercraft, whether they’re on skis, a wakeboard or biscuit, you must have an observer aged 10 or over who can communicate the actions of the person being towed.

The rules

  • You must not tow anyone faster than 5 knots if you are:
    • within 50 metres of another vessel, raft or person in the water
    • within 200 metres of the shore or of any structure
    • within 200 metres of any vessel or raft that is flying a diver’s flag
  • You must not continue onwards after the person being towed has been dropped
  • You must have a lookout (over the age of 10) when towing over 5 knots
  • You must not tow someone at night, only between sunrise and sunset


Limits for water skiing are uplifted in some reserved areas.

Freshwater pests can be spread by your activities in and around waterways. If you're moving between waterways, you must clean all your gear using the ‘Check, Clean, Dry’ method.

The Check, Clean, Dry method

To prevent the spread of freshwater pests (like didymo), whenever you move between waterways you must check, clean and dry all gear that comes into contact with water. If you don’t want to treat your gear, make sure you only use it in one waterway.


Remove any plant matter from your gear and leave it at the site (the river or lake bank) or put it in the rubbish. Don’t wash plant material down any drain.


There’s more than one option for cleaning your gear – choose the best one for your situation and your gear.


Ensure your gear is completely dry to touch, inside and out, then leave it to dry for at least another 48 hours before you use it (didymo can survive for months on moist gear).

Clean boats and trailers thoroughly, both inside and out, for at least one minute with a cleaning solution (from the cleaning options table on the MPI page).

Take particular care with the following:

  • Jet boat grate: Remove visible clumps of algae from the grate and flush the system with solution
  • Jet unit: Open ball valve at the bottom of the sand trap, remove any residue and flush the system with solution
  • Outboard motor: Flush the cooling system out with solution. You can then flush it again with town water
  • Boat interior, including anchor recess: Remove bungs to get rid of excess water, then wash the inside with solution
  • Bilge pump: Flush inside the boat with solution, then use the bilge pump to remove before the bungs are opened
  • Absorbent parts such as mats, carpet (including on trailer), anchor rope: Thoroughly soak with solution, allowing extra time to fully soak through

Treat all kayaks, canoes, dinghies and related equipment with a treatment solution or by drying.

If you use a cleaning solution:

  • Scrub or spray all exterior parts of the craft with treatment solution for at least one minute
  • Fill the inside with solution and put all associated equipment (gear and clothing) into it
  • Immerse equipment completely and soak to saturate any absorbent items
  • Rinse after treatment with town water supply

Find out more from the MPI website on preventing the spread of pests with Check Clean Dry.


It is important to monitor your wash and wake when boating.


It is important that you use a killcord when boating. 

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