Submission on Jetboats on the Hawea River

NZRCA submission to the Environment Court regarding jet boats on the Hawea River, compiled by Glenn Murdoch


  • My name is Glenn Murdoch. I am the Education and Safety Officer of the New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association (NZRCA). The NZRCA is the representative body for recreational kayakers in New Zealand. The purpose of the NZRCA is to preserve New Zealand's whitewater resources and enhance opportunities to enjoy them safely. The NZRCA has been in existence in various forms since 1952.
  • I have been the Education and Safety Officer since August 2002. The general role of the Education and Safety Officer is to promote safe kayaking practices, to provide information to the kayaking community on safety issues and to minimise risks in the water environment where kayaking takes place.
  • I have been an active whitewater kayaker since 1994. I have kayaked extensively throughout New Zealand on rivers of difficulty up to Grade 5, which is the upper level of kayaking difficulty. I have also kayaked overseas in Italy and Japan.
  • Kayaking is a sport that has a level of inherent risk. With experience, kayakers learn to manage the risks that are intrinsic to kayaking. This occurs at all levels of kayaking, from extreme kayakers paddling very difficult rivers, to beginner and intermediate kayakers paddling relatively easy rivers. Risks that are introduced to the river environment have the potential to be overwhelming for kayakers, especially for beginner or intermediate kayakers that have less experience.

Kayaks and Jet Boats

  • Kayakers travel downstream with the river current and carry out kayaking activity on the hydraulic water features occurring in the river. This generally involves surfing waves or riding re-circulating wave holes. Kayakers can move rapidly across the rapid from one whitewater feature to another in an unpredictable fashion. Generally where the river current is fastest the river is narrower and the biggest waves occur at that point. Kayakers sit low in the water and a kayaker’s field of vision is approximately one metre above the river. Often the waves and other hydraulic features in the river are higher than the kayakers. A whitewater rapid has constantly moving water and surface kayakers are often out of view.
  • I understand that jet boats need to travel at speed on the plane to maintain steering control. A jet boat’s ground speed is greatly increased when jet boats are travelling downstream with the current. The combination of various factors means that a jet boat travelling up or down whitewater rapid may not be seen or heard by a kayaker and conversely a kayaker may not be seen by the jet boat driver.
  • At any time a jet boat passing close to a kayaker in whitewater is an uncomfortable experience for kayakers because of the boat’s wash displacement wake and loud engine noise. A collision between a kayak and jet boat would have drastic consequences for the kayaker.
  • The 5 knot speed limit is an effective mechanism to separate motorised and non-motorised river craft. In practical terms there is not a significant overlap of river use by kayakers and jet boaters. Kayakers generally have shorter river journeys in higher graded whitewater which often have obstacles making the river impassable for jet boats. Jet boats tend to have longer river journeys in wider rivers with slower currents. Kayakers tend to avoid river areas used for jet boating.
  • Kayak participant numbers continue to increase and this will result in greater future competition for river resources. Where any overlap of use occurs between kayakers and jet boats, the future risk of a collision will be greater with the increasing number of river users. It is crucial that kayaking river areas are identified and for the speed limit to be retained to prevent the use of motorised craft in those areas.

National Importance of the Hawea River

  • The Hawea river is recognised by the NZRCA as an important kayaking training river in Otago and Southland. The NZRCA recognises that the future development of the sport is determined by the numbers of people being introduced to it and the quality of their training. The Hawea River is an accessible grade 2 river located in the centre of an area renowned for its outdoor activities, which makes it an extremely important river resource to introducing newcomers to the sport.
  • The NZRCA supports the Hawea River Whitewater Enhancement Project in conjunction with resident kayakers in Central Otago and Contact Energy Limited. The growth of the sport of kayaking and the completion of this project will mean the Hawea river will become an even more important resource for kayaking and recognises that there will be a large increase in kayaking use of the river.