Our purpose is to preserve New Zealand's whitewater resources and enhance opportunities to enjoy them safely.

Code of Practice, Version 1.1


This Code of Practice is not an instruction manual but a document that highlights key safety and management issues in order to promote responsible kayaking which still allows for high levels of challenge and fun. It is intended that clubs or individuals can adopt this Code of Practice as it stands, or use it as a template to develop their own Code of Practice.

Some Codes of Practice have been used as evidence in legal proceedings to show that a person has failed to meet a duty of care. Failure to follow a Code of Practice does not necessarily mean that there is a failure in duty of care or personal responsibility, but if a person has not followed the Code then, in the event of an accident, it is up to that person to show that the duty of care has been met by alternative methods, which are equivalent to or better than those in the Code.

Whitewater NZ encourages all clubs and individuals to take responsibility for the safety of themselves and others in their group while kayaking.

If you have any comments, or if you make any modifications, please advise us.

Safe boating.
Glenn Murdoch,

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 New Zealand License.
  1. Personal Kayaking

    1. Find out as much as practicable about the river trip, especially compulsory portage points, emergency exit points, known hazards and acceptable flow parameters.
    2. Minimise impact upon the kayaking resource including riverbed, banks, access routes, flora and fauna.
    3. Work cooperatively with other river users and landowners.
    4. Let someone know what you are planning and when you are expected to return.
    5. Wear an approved buoyancy aid when on or near the river, check its floatation and make sure it is in good condition and the correct fit. Ensure all buckles and zips are fastened.
    6. Wear a helmet when on or near the river. Ensure it fits correctly and protects the temples and back of head.
    7. Wear and/or carry sufficient warm protective clothing for the trip. This could include wetsuit, paddle jacket, dry top, neoprene shorts, fleece and polypropylene layers, hat and pogies.
    8. Wear and/or carry footwear suitable for walking out of the river or scouting rapids. Footwear should be free of buckles or other accessories that could catch. Avoid boots and sports sandals as they can catch easily and are designed to not rip off. (Sports sandals are quite popular and are perceived as being suitable by many people but have been a contributing factor in overseas drownings.)
    9. Carry equipment for unexpected emergencies. For example, first aid kit, spare paddle, spare clothes, food, webbing slings, throw bag, pulleys, prussiks, knife, snorkel, saw, fire-lighting equipment, thermos, survival bag, radio/cell phone, whistle and torch.
    10. Check the safety of your kayak. Check usability, security and strength of grab-loops (all kayaks should have these). Check that the kayaks buoyancy is securely fastened and all screws and bolts are tight. Check the security of your footrests or bulkhead.
    11. Check that you can release yourself from the kayak.
    12. Ensure that your spray skirt has a pull-cord for release.
    13. Ensure your spray skirt will not release unless you want it to.
    14. Check your equipment for loose ropes or other snagging features, and remedy any dangerous features.
    15. Check that your kayak has floatation adequate to ensure the kayak will float when full of water, possibly supplemented by air bags.
    16. Be proficient in self rescue, including the skills of whitewater swimming techniques and a reliable Eskimo roll when paddling Class III/Grade 3 water or harder.
    17. Know Basic Life Support and have a current first aid certificate.
    18. Be proficient in river rescue techniques appropriate for the trip being undertaken and practice them regularly.
    19. Paddle in control. Don't enter unknown rapids that have not been scouted from the river or the bank. Consider portaging when you cannot see what obstacles lie ahead.
    20. Be aware that rivers change and new hazards can occur between river trips and particularly after floods or heavy rain.
    21. Be aware of your personal paddling ability and be prepared to portage rapids beyond this ability.
    22. Don't paddle when excessively tired, physically ill, intoxicated or when using drugs (prescription or non-prescription) which affect decision-making and reflexes.
    23. Be particularly aware of constructed features obstructing the river, including weirs, bridges, fences, ropes, wire and other debris.
    24. Think carefully about the suitability of your boat for the particular river conditions you are paddling, know the strengths and limitations of your kayak design.
    25. Be aware of the additional hazards in flooded rivers.
    26. Check river flows and weather forecasts and be prepared to change plans.
    27. Learn to recognise river hazards (overhanging trees, undercut banks, weir-like holes, vortex-style eddies etc.).
    28. Avoid injury by stretching, warming up, staying fit and developing good paddling techniques.
  2. Group Kayaking

    In addition to the Personal Kayaking points:

    1. Designate a leader for the trip. Casual groups are hard to co-ordinate unless somebody assumes this role.
    2. Divide a large group into manageable sizes. A maximum of 6 kayakers per group is a good guideline. Appoint a leader for each group.
    3. Buddy people up if there are some weaker paddlers or paddlers who's experience is unknown.
    4. Be prepared to suggest that some people may be better portaging some rapids.
    5. Ensure group members are aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses and have strategies in place to inform each other if these change (e.g. if injury develops).
    6. Let someone know what you are planning and when you are expected to return.
    7. Have sufficient emergency gear with you for the number of kayakers in your party. Know who has what and ensure emergency equipment is shared out amongst members.
    8. Look out for each other and be personally responsible.
    9. Know the communication system that your group is using.
    10. In the event of an accident think of safety ahead of speed. There are often simple solutions, which do not compromise anyone else's personal safety.
    11. When a harder rapid is reached utilise appropriate risk management strategies.
      These may include but are not limited to:
      1. Scouting the rapid from boat and / or bank. Remember that different perspectives can show up different problems or different lines.
      2. Select the line and discuss with others.
      3. Watch the most competent person paddle the rapid first.
      4. Portage if necessary.
      5. Strategic placement of people with throw bags and paddles.
      6. Strategic placement of paddlers in eddies.
  3. Instructional Kayaking

    In addition to the Personal and Group Kayaking points:

    1. The purpose is to teach kayaking skills to people of lesser skill or experience.
    2. The Instructor should have attended a River Rescue course and be proficient in these rescue techniques.
    3. The Instructor takes on the responsibility of looking after the client group.
    4. The ratio of Instructor to clients is dependent on river, skills of leader and clients, but as a guideline 1:4 is a practical number from which to make adjustments.
    5. Be familiar with the river trip.
    6. Plan the trip carefully and be aware of the exit point and emergency exit points.
    7. Check river flows and weather forecasts and be prepared to change plans.
    8. Organise equipment so that there is spare equipment at the end of the trip.
    9. The clients should have covered some appropriate progressions before being taken onto the river; these could include capsize drill, Eskimo rescue drill, Eskimo rolling, forward paddling, sweep stroke, low brace, river signals, whitewater swim position.
    10. The Instructor is responsible for analysing river hazards and minimising the risk to clients by alerting clients to any problem, avoiding the hazard, and positioning themselves and others to minimise consequences.
    11. The Instructor is responsible for checking quality and suitability of the client's equipment.
    12. Consider the rescue equipment that should be carried for the trip. Depending on the trip this could include a first aid kit, spare paddle, spare clothes, food, webbing slings, throw bag, pulleys, prussiks, knife, snorkel, saw, fire-lighting equipment, thermos, survival bag, radio/cell phone, whistle and torch.
    13. The clients should be taken on water that they can paddle safely or swim without injury.
    14. The experience should be positive, improve skills and stimulate enthusiasm for kayaking.
    15. Consider risk management strategies and develop an emergency response plan.
    16. Know Basic Life Support and have a current first aid certificate.
    17. Consider personal currency in kayaking. (Maintaining a logbook of personal and instructional experience is a good way of doing this.)
    18. The above information is for those instructing on an "ad hoc basis" For further information on the standards required of professional Instructors in New Zealand, contact the NZ Outdoor Instructor's Association, and read the NZOIA Kayak Instructor's Handbook.


Version 1 (25 March 2003) to Version 1.1 (23 February 2004)

Added second level of numbering to aid referencing.

This site is a beta version.