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It's a big ocean out there, a wide open space and the lanes aren't marked, but there is still a right place to be. Know where that is, and why it is. Know who gives way to whom, and what your responsibilities are. Ninety percent of fatal accidents involve the Skipper not having enough boating knowledge and experience.


Every boat, whether it is a ship, a yacht, a dinghy, a sailboard or a personal water craft (PWC) such as a ‘jetski’, must have a person in charge - a Skipper. It is the Skipper’s responsibility to ensure safety, which includes knowing and understanding the rules that apply before heading out on the water.


You must keep a good lookout at all times. It is your responsibility to stay alert for other boats, swimmers, hazards and obstacles. Listen as well as look.


All boats must travel at a safe speed, taking into account the amount of boat traffic in the area, weather conditions and when visibility is affected by glare or city lights. Specifically, you must not exceed a speed of 5 knots (a fast walking speed) if you are
• within 200 metres of the shore
• within 200 metres of a boat displaying a divers flag
• within 50 metres of any other boat
• within 50 metres 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 the age of 15 to operate any power boat which is capable of speed exceeding 10 knots. This includes dinghies and PWCs.

When two boats meet

There are rules which apply to boats on the water just as there are for cars on the road. You must understand and obey these rules and do everything possible to avoid a collision. When two boats are approaching each other, one has the right of way and it is called the stand on boat. The other boat is called the give way boat. The give way boat must make an early and obvious manoeuvre so there can be no confusion. The give way boat must pass astern of (behind) the stand on boat, while the stand on boat maintains the same course and speed. Every boat that is overtaking must give way. You are overtaking if you are approaching another boat anywhere in a 135 degree sector at its stern.



Every boat must keep to the starboard (right) side of any channel inside a harbour (normally shown on the pilotage limit on the chart) you must keep out of the way of any ship over 500 tons (which is about 50 metres in length). Do not create a wake which causes unnecessary danger to other boats or people, you must not anchor in a channel, all small craft must keep out of the way of larger vessels which are restricted by the channel.


You must give way to another boat on your starboard (right), if you meet head on, both boats must turn to starboard (right).


The power boat gives way, unless the sail boat is overtaking. A sailing boat has to give way to a special case power boat, which displays certain lights or day shapes. Sailing boats should avoid sailing in a narrow channel. They have to give way to power boats restricted by the channel.


When the wind is coming from different sides, the boat with the wind on the port (left) side has to give way. When both boats have the wind on the same side the windward (upwind) boat has to give way


If the give way boat does not appear to be giving way, the stand on boat must take action. The stand on boat should turn to starboard (right). If it turned to port it could turn in to the path of the give way boat.



Knowing what the marker in front means may make the difference between continuing on your way in safety, or making a Mayday call, sitting embarrassingly high on a fast drying rock as the tide ebbs.
These are the road signs on the water. The meaning of each navigational buoy, or beacon, is found in its shape, symbol on the top (topmark) and its colours. Take time to study the buoys to familiarise yourself with their meanings.



These show well-established channels and indicate port (left) and starboard (right) sides of the channels. One of the following maybe used:

  • Lateral Marks (Red or Green)

  • Port Mark - A red can shape. At night, a red flashing light may be shown.

  • Starboard Mark - A green conical shape. At night, a green flashing light may be shown.



upon entering harbour the red port mark should be kept on the boat's port (left) side and the green mark on the boat's starboard (right) side.


when leaving harbour the red port mark should be kept on the boat's starboard (right) side and the green mark on the boat's port (left) side.


Just a few minutes spent in planning can make the difference between a wonderful day or one filled with hassles; it may even make that critical difference between a safe day out, or a tragedy. Tell someone where you are going and when you are coming back.


NOTE: A membership fee may apply to utilise Coastguard or other private VHF repeater channels. Contact Coastguard

New Zealand (09 489 1510) or your local private coast radio station for details.

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