Wary eye on boaties' behaviour

00:46, Jan 31 2013
LAW ON WATER: Deputy harbourmaster Bob Huggins, left, and his understudy, Josh Hanrahan, on patrol in the Punawai.

If you are within the confines of Nelson Harbour and are speeding in your boat or not wearing a lifejacket, do not be surprised to hear a word or two from Bob Huggins.

The warranted officer acting in the role of deputy harbourmaster is the face behind the wheel of the harbourmaster's vessel, Punawai, at weekends and public holidays, these days often with his understudy, Josh Hanrahan.

The Port Nelson marine department deckhand on the floating plant is keen to expand his career repertoire, and is being shown the ropes of the job that involves enforcement and education.

In 2009, the Punawai was bought to cover the Nelson city council's responsibility for enforcing council bylaws and keeping an eye on recreational and commercial vessel movements, and port operators. It was also to help with on-water education and community events.

Changes to the Navigation Safety Bylaw (2012) which came into effect on December 1 last year, mean Port Nelson is now officially responsible for navigation safety on Nelson harbour. The changes also give more tools to the harbourmaster to manage leisurecraft.

Nelson's full-time harbourmaster is Dave Duncan.


Mr Huggins has been doing the part-time job for three years.

"Now that we've been around a bit, people are used to us. As soon as they see us coming - it's a bit like a police car - they slow down."

In a lot of cases, people's behaviour on the water is through not knowing the rules, he says. In an average day, he speaks to 10 to 12 people on the water, usually to inform them.

The worst habit is speeding and then people not wearing life jackets, although that is changing.

"People are starting to wear lifejackets more frequently, but you get the odd one who feels they are being victimised.

"The law says you only have to carry them, but you're not going to get saved if you're sitting on your lifejacket when you end up in the water," Mr Huggins says.

He is also aware of increasing tensions around the public boat ramp near the Nelson Marina at Akersten St, as boaties compete for car-parking spaces.

"The problems begin about 4am at the boat ramp. Boat and launch owners all feel they're entitled to a car park, but it's a matter of trying to find a happy medium between marina tenants and powerboat owners."

When it comes to on-water behaviour, "99 per cent of people are as good as gold", Mr Huggins says.

"I can speak over the public address system, which is good, because it means I can't hear what they say back."

He has the authority to issue infringements, but he is yet to write a ticket.

"I've had to take names and phone numbers and have Dave [Duncan] write a letter."

The Nelson Mail experienced first hand the interaction between Mr Huggins and a powerboat driver coming up the harbour too fast.

As he pulled alongside in the Punawai and held up a sign that showed a 5-knot maximum speed limit was in force, the powerboat driver appeared puzzled and took some time to slow down, at which point his irritation was clear.

He became more annoyed when it was pointed out that the children on board should be wearing lifejackets.

"It's my choice," he retorted.

Mr Huggins let him go.

"I know very well he knows a lot about boats," he says of the boatie who was familiar to him. "He is right, it is his choice, but it's also his responsibility to ensure the safety of those on board."

Mr Huggins tries to be nice.

"I'm nice three times," he says, before trailing off with a comment about what happens the fourth time.

Harbour rule enforcers are yet to see behaviour improve around shipping entering and leaving The Cut.

If a ship is approaching the harbour entrance, in effect The Cut is closed.

"Kayakers sometimes give us a bit of grief," he says.

"There was one instance when this couple were paddling close to a ship coming in and when I alerted them, they responded they had the right of way.

"I told them the pilot on board was unable to see them over the containers and down the length of the ship. I almost had to push them out of the way.

"The woman complained to the port authority," Mr Huggins says.

The rising trend in paddle boarding is creating a new challenge.

"They consider that because they have a board, they don't need a flotation device, but they only need to fall and hit their head on the way down.

"I believe it's being looked into now," Mr Huggins says.


Certain areas of the harbour are set aside for specified predominant recreational purposes. These zones do not give sole right of use, but when those priority activities are taking place, other harbour users should act appropriately.

A Moving Prohibited Zone and Total Exclusion Zone have been introduced around any vessel of 3000 tonnes or more (the bigger-size fishing vessels and up). This means big ships have exclusive rights to The Cut and smaller vessels should not enter The Cut when big ships are there.

A harbour transit lane has been established, allowing vessels to legally exceed 5 knots (9kmh) when transiting the port, provided they stay on the red beacon side of the channel and do not approach within 50 metres of any other vessel within the transit lane or port. There is an exclusion zone of 50 metres around any of the wharves or vessels tied to the wharves.

The person in charge of a recreational vessel less than 6m long must ensure that everyone on board wears a properly secured lifejacket, unless the person in charge gives express permission for lifejackets not to be worn or the person in charge of the vessel considers that conditions are such that there is no significant risk to the safety of any person through not wearing a life jacket.

Licences are required from the Nelson City Council to operate a commercial vessel.

Penalties and infringements are contained within the bylaw.

The Nelson Mail