Follow NZUA

Boat Handling

Rules of the road

A brief overview of the essential rules of the road, as they apply boats operating in New Zealand.

Rules of the road

Vessels and skippers are required to keep a proper lookout at all times, including actively looking for persons in the water. An exceptionally high level of vigilance is necessary when operating close to the shore, where swimmers and divers are likely to be encountered.

Know the Maritime give way rules as they apply to your vessel. An excellent detailed reference page is here:

Approaching vessels underway

  • Two vessels approaching each other pass port side to port side; make your intentions known early.
  • Any vessel underway with an approaching vessel on its starboard side must give way; make your intentions known early.
  • Powerboat vessels give way to all other classes of craft, including sailboats, paddle and rowboats and a wide variety of craft such as vessels operating under constrained manoeuvrability like container ships in harbours.

Note: Port is the vessel's left side, and starboard is the right.

Overtaking vessels

  • When overtaking from astern, the overtaking vessel can pass on either side, maintaining a safe distance that allows for sudden changes of course or speed by the slower vessel.

Vessel speed and maintaining watch

  • Vessels must proceed at a safe speed allowing for weather conditions, visibility and traffic congestion.
  • Vessel skippers must keep watch at all times.
  • When determining a safe speed, the potential for encountering persons or small low-profile craft such as kayaks is a vital consideration.

Additional Resources