Submission on ARC Navigation Safety Bylaw


NZRCA Safety Officer Glenn Murdoch argues that the recently adopted Auckland Regional Council safety bylaw (PDF) won't improve kayaker safety. Lack of consultation is a significant issue. Kevin Dunsford has compiled useful resources regarding the bylaw.

16 March, 2009


  1. I am the elected Safety Officer of the New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association (NZRCA). I have held this position since 2002.
  2. The NZRCA is the organisation in New Zealand representing the interests of whitewater kayakers and canoeists. The Association's mission is, “To preserve New Zealand's whitewater resources and enhance opportunities to enjoy them safely.”
  3. The NZRCA has submitted on many safety issues around New Zealand with relation to rivers.
  4. I have been actively kayaking since 1994. I am a highly competent and experienced Grade 5 kayaker and have kayaked in New Zealand, Europe and Asia both recreationally and as a professional kayak instructor and have also worked as a professional river guide. I also have experience as a sea kayaker.
  5. As detailed above, the Association's interests lie in the area of whitewater rivers. While the Auckland Regional Council's bylaw amendments do not relate directly to rivers, the Association is deeply concerned about the potential for this rule to be adopted on a national basis and for it to be applied to all paddle craft on any water bodies.

    This bylaw will, however, impact on whitewater kayakers who use their kayaks in the sea for surfing or sea kayaking.

  6. Consultation

  7. There has been a distinct lack of consultation with the Association regarding this proposed bylaw amendment. This is in contravention of clause 82 of the Local Government Act 2002.
  8. Proposed Bylaw Changes

    We have the following comments on the proposed bylaw Clause 2.17:

  9. The proposed bylaw states, “Every kayak and paddle craft that is navigating in waters beyond 200 metres from shore shall ensure they are highly visible to other vessels.”
    1. This clause is impossible for a kayaker to comply with. A kayaker cannot ensure they are highly visible to another vessel; they may take steps but cannot ensure.
    2. The clause is diametrically opposed to the intention of the International Safety Collision Regulations (COLREGS).
      (ii) A vessel under oars may exhibit the lights prescribed in this Rule for sailing vessels, but if she does not, she shall have ready at hand an electric torch or lighted lantern showing a white light which shall be exhibited in sufficient time to prevnt collision.
      The above extract from the COLREGS state the requirements for vessels under oars (which includes paddles for the purposes of the COLREGS). The COLREGS gives Authorities such as the ARC the power to make their own rules so long as they conform as much as possible with COLREGS. The proposed wording is opposite to the intention of the COLREGS.
    3. Clause 2.17 intends to impose this strict regulation on kayakers, but not row boats, which generally have about the same freeboard as a paddle craft or kayak. It is just as hard to see many row boats and small boats with outboards as it is to see kayaks.
  10. Sublause (a) states, “This shall include: (a) wearing a high visibility vest or high visibility PFD; and...”

    1. This clause is both impossible to comply with and will not address the perceived problem. A kayaker cannot guarantee that their clothing has high visibility. Kayakers are very good at ensuring they are as safe as possible by using various methods such as flags on poles, sails, brightly coloured clothing, brightly coloured hats etc.

  11. Subclause (b) states, “This shall include: ... (b) use of reflecting tape on oars or paddles and also on clothing; and...”

    1. Reflective tape does not make a kayaker more visible at night. Reflective tape is only useful when a light is shone directly on it. This very bylaw does not require boats to use a 'headlight' in order to reflect from the reflective tape on kayakers clothing or equipment. While reflective taping is a good measure for a search situation, it will not prevent collisions between powered boats and kayakers at night.

  12. Subclause (c) states, “This shall include: ... (c) at night showing a continuous white light visible in all directions from a distance of two nautical miles.”
    1. Kayaking at night needs differing safety measures best determined by the kayaker and the situation. Some kayakers, when not in busy boating areas do not use a permanent light because it destroys their night vision. Night vision is needed, especially in non calm conditions to be able to predict swells and waves and make balance adjustments. This clause will make sea kayakers less safe.
    2. A light on a kayak that would be visible to other craft, from a distance of two nautical miles, would be prohibitively expensive and heavy to mount on a kayak.
    3. Kayakers who paddle at night are generally more experienced kayakers, and as a standard practice carry a torch with which to warn oncoming vessels of their presence.


  1. Large waka, waka ama, and dragon boats should be exempt because their size makes them highly visible.
  2. The text of the clause be amended to:

    “Every kayak and paddle craft that is navigating in waters beyond 200 metres from shore shall take all practicable steps to enhance their visibility to other vessels. This shall include:

    By Day:
    Taking at least one of the following actions:

    1. paddling a brightly-coloured kayak or paddle craft;
    2. wearing a brightly-coloured PFD or paddle jacket;
    3. exhibiting a brightly-coloured flag on a small mast;

    By Night:
    Having ready an electric torch showing a white light which must be exhibited in sufficient time to prevent collision.”