Recreational boating

There are a wealth of activities and competitive sports you can do on Canterbury's waterways. Whether you're rowing, kayaking, on a jet ski, sailing or on a stand up paddleboard, we want all recreational boaties to stay safe, no matter what you're doing. 

Please check if there are any hazards you need to know about before heading out.

We'd also like to hear about any accidents or bad behaviour you see.

Remember too the importance of keeping our waterways pest-free. Ensure you're following the 'Check, Clean, Dry' principles for cleaning and decontaminating your equipment and vessels before and after heading out on the water.

Communication is crucial

All Canterbury boaties should carry two forms of communication suitable for the area they're in.

Different types of communication are more effective in certain areas so it is best that you're prepared for your surroundings.

Boating communication

Recommended forms of communication for recreational boaties

All boaties should carry two forms of communication when they’re on the water that are appropriate for the area they are in.

Certain types of communication are more effective in different areas, so it is best that you’re prepared for your surroundings.
Remember: If you can’t be heard, you can’t be helped.

There are three broad categories of communication equipment:

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

Satellite Emergency Distress Beacons

EPIRBS or PLBs provide the most reliable way of signalling a distress situation. They provide a one-way indication of distress and a boat’s location directly to SAR authorities anywhere in the world and are suitable for vessels at sea and on inland waterways. Other than the initial purchase, Emergency Distress Beacons are free. They must be registered at

EPIRBs, being slightly bulkier, are designed specifically for boats, ships and other activities on water and can float with their antenna above the water. PLBs are designed more for land usage. While all 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 operate in the marine environment and is used extensively as a communications tool by the coastal boating community. A 24/7 distress and safety radio service is provided by Maritime New Zealand, which monitors the international Channel 16 distress channel. Coastguard New Zealand also provides coverage around large parts of the coast.

VHF radio users are required to hold a Maritime Radio Operator’s Certificate and have an individual call-sign, with courses and call-sign information available from (these are not required, however, if making a distress or emergency call on channel 16). A call-sign allows the Search and Rescue sector to quickly access the contact details you have provided.

Mobile phones

Almost everyone carries a mobile phone these days, but geographic coverage can be limited, particularly on more remote inland waterways and at sea. Unlike maritime radio, a mobile phone does not allow a boatie in distress to broadcast for help to other boaties that might be in the vicinity.

Phones are nevertheless a very useful safety communications back-up tool, particularly given their almost universal carriage. It is very important, however, that boaties ensure that they remain usable after immersion by keeping the cellphone dry in waterproof lanyard bags (although some waterproof phones are now available) and remain accessible by being carried on the person.


Pyrotechnic flares and waterproof torches are widely recognised and, where practical, may be considered for inclusion in an emergency communication kit.
The major limitations of flares are that they are dependent on other boaties in the vicinity (or people on shore) seeing them during the relatively short time they are alight, understanding what they mean, and knowing how to respond.

Whistles, horns, and mirrors

There are a range of other signalling devices that can be used for communication, including a whistle, manual horn (aerosol canister, rechargeable, powered), mirror etc. Like flares, they are very reliant on someone being able to see or hear the distress signal, knowing what it means, and then being able to act on it.

Boating ID

Boats & jet skis must have ID

All boats in Canterbury – including jet skis – now need an identifying number or name on each side of the hull. The ID must be at least 9 centimetres high and visible from 50 metres away. It could be printed on a sticker from a sign shop or it could be painted on (see image below).

What ID do I use?

  • If your boat is towed on a trailer, your ID will usually be the same as your trailer registration number.
  • If your boat is not towed on a trailer, your ID could be your VHF radio call sign or an existing Maritime New Zealand registration number.
  • If you belong to a sporting body or boat club, check with them as they may have had an ID approved by us already that you can use on your boat.

What are the exceptions?

Non-powered vessels (measuring 6 metres or less), paddle craft, and vessels solely powered by oars only need a contact name and phone number written somewhere on board. It’s as simple as using a marker pen and writing it on. This applies to stand-up paddleboards, row boats, sailing boats (if they are under 6 metres), canoes, kayaks, etc.

If you’re unsure – ask us by emailing  For full information, read the Navigation Safety Bylaw 2016 (part 5).

Vessel ID

Current boating notices and events

See any current or upcoming events, and changes to local boating requirements. This includes temporary regulations made under the Bylaw for specific short term purposes, such as power boat races or large scale swim events, but also minor changes to Bylaw rules for particular areas the water user community has asked for and supports.

Upcoming events

Boating notices

Please also check for hazards in Canterbury.

Personal flotation devices / Lifejackets

Personal flotation devices (PFDs) — commonly known as lifejackets and buoyancy vests — come in a variety of designs and sizes. It’s important to wear the right one in the right situation, as it could save your life. Looking after your PFD properly will ensure it has a longer life.

PFDs provide more than flotation. They allow a person in the water to keep still and conserve energy, which helps delay the onset of hypothermia. PFDs also provide protection from injury in boating collisions or if your boat runs aground. Find out more from Maritime New Zealand.

Under Canterbury boating rules:

  • PFDs  must be *worn at all times on craft 6m or less in length except when the craft is tied up or at anchor.
  • All craft must *carry PFDs of an appropriate size for every person on board.
  • Everybody must wear their PFD if there are circumstances which cause danger or risk to the safety of people aboard.
Examples of these situations are:
  • tides, river flows, rough seas (eg bar crossing)
  • adverse weather, adverse visibility or emergencies
  • poor visibility including hours of darkness
  • other risk situations can include coast or lakes with many hazards (eg Kaikōura); or areas where there is very high intensity boating activity, which occurs at peak times in many smaller lakes (eg Lake Opuha and Lake Ruataniwha).
*There are a very small number of exemptions to these two overall rules, and these are stated in the Bylaw. Details can be provided by the Harbourmaster’s Office. If you’re in any doubt about whether you should or shouldn’t wear a PFD, wearing one is best.
Incidents, accidents and enforcement

We patrol the region during peak summer periods to help ensure all water users are safe. If you see any bad behaviour on our water ways please contact us.

Whether you report via email or phone, please supply as much information as possible.

  • Date and time of the incident
  • Detailed location (eg Timaru, Caroline Bay, south end of beach)
  • Offending vessel details — length, colour, type of boat, identifying marks if any
  • Details of the trailer or vehicle connected with the vehicle (if possible)
  • Details of what you witnessed and the concerns you have.

In some cases we will be able to identify the person or vessel responsible. This will allow us to ensure those responsible understand the bylaws. In some cases we will be unable to identify those responsible but we are able to keep a record and may be able to identify them in future. In both cases we are able to better understand where our enforcement patrols need to be undertaken and at what times of the year.

If you become involved in an accident, or a near miss, please also report this to us. The Bylaw requires you to do this, and it is likely your insurance company will contact us to ensure the accident is reported and check if we are taking enforcement action.

The Navigation Safety Bylaw contains rules that apply in the Canterbury region alongside those of the nationally applicable rules in Maritime Rules part 91 and Martime Rules part 22
In some instances, where allowed by law, the Bylaw rules may go further than those in the Maritime Rules. An example of this is the PFD rules.
To apply for an exemption from any part of the Bylaw please complete this exemption form.
Regional Boating information

For generic rules regarding speed and general rules of the water see the Navigation Safety Bylaw and Maritime Rules part 91 and Maritime Rules part 22

The Bylaw also contains more information on boating safety requirements on most lakes and waterways, including many rivers, in the Canterbury region.