Rule Part 91 and its implications for kayakers

This overview of Maritime NZ's Rule Part 91 and its problematic implications for kayakers was written by Jonathan Hunt and Tony Ward-Holmes.

Update 27 December 2007: Recreational kayakers may continue to utilise fit-for-purpose PFDs until 1 October 2014 based on an amendment (PDF, 192kb) to Rule Part 91. For commercial operations, the date is 1 October 2011; clubs renting equipment are regarded as commercial operations by MNZ. Arising from strong representations from the kayaking community, the amendment comes into force on 10 January 2008. The amendment includes additional provisions clarifying the standard for PFDs used on paddle craft, acknowledging that the process for developing the existing standard appears in hindsight to have failed to fully represent the views of the kayaking sector. Unfortunately other problematic clauses regarding surfing on waves, requirement to stick to starboard and definitions of 'safe operation' remain.

The Maritime NZ (formerly MSA) have developed Rule Part 91 - The Navigation Safety Rule (Rule Part 91 - The Navigation Safety Rule (PDF, 138k) and Advisory Circular (PDF, 118kb)). Rule Part 91 became law on March 21, 2003. The new rule makes it compulsory for a certified PFD to be worn at times of "heightened risk". Kayakers in New Zealand typically wear PFDs as a matter of course, but all kayaking PFDs are currently uncertified (and likely to stay that way for the immediate future). Technically almost everyone paddling since March is breaking the law. The impact on manufacturers, retailers and anybody who hires gear is more than just a technicality.

The new rule states that PFDs must be certified to NZ Standard 5823:2005 (PDF, ?k, $101.20) or another similar national standard acceptable to Maritime NZ. The type of PFD relevant to whitewater kayaking is most likely "Type 408: Specialist lifejacket designed for White water rafting or Jet boating."

The NZRCA and many others have strongly protested Maritime NZ's lack of consultation and the lack of professional expertise used in drafting this rule. NZRCA Safety Office Glenn Murdoch sent Maritime NZ a letter outlining our concerns regarding Rule Part 91 (PDF, 56k).

The rule has significant detrimental implications for individual paddlers, clubs renting kayaks to members or the public, organisations running events (such as slaloms, races, rodeos, etc. and where kayakers from overseas may be participating), local PFD manufacturers, and importers or retailers of overseas-manufactured PFDs.

To their credit Maritime NZ are working to fix the situation. They have now released a proposed amendment (PDF, 124k), that legitimises the use of non-certified but fit-for-purpose PFDs in kayaking and canoeing applications until 21 March 2007 for commercial operators (including clubs), and 21 March 2010 for everyone else.

There are still many problems:

  • The transitional rule applies to clubs who rent equipment, but with the earlier date of 2007, since they are regarded as commercial entities [Rule Part 91.4(2)g, Rule Part 91.22(4)].
  • Part 91 makes surfing on many play waves illegal, as there is 5 knot proper speed limit (ie relative to the water) unless uplifted by local authorities [Rule Part 91.6(2)].
  • You must also stick to the starboard side of any river channel (at least the boof on the Kaituna is OK) [Rule Part 91.17(b)].
  • The amended PFD provisions may only apply to solely paddle powered craft, not the likes of River Bugs and not sea-kayaks under sail.
  • "A person in charge of a vessel on a river must - not operate the vessel unless river and weather conditions permit safe operation of the vessel." [Rule Part 91.17(c)] What does this mean for kayakers? Who decides what is safe?

The NZRCA is encouraging all paddlers to consider the amendment and make their views known. The close off date for comments on the amendment to Rule Part 91 is 31 October 2003 by email to, mail to PO Box 27006 , Wellington or fax +64 4 494 1263.