Kayakers paddling the rapids on the Whanganui Journey
Image: Janette Asche | Creative Commons


Swimming, kayaking, boating and SUPing (stand up paddling) are great ways to enjoy New Zealand’s stunning coastline. Stay safe when crossing rivers and while in or on the water by following some simple steps.

Water safety

Be prepared

Learn to swim and survive and set rules for safe play in the water. Always use safe and correct equipment. Know the weather and water conditions before you get in.

Watch out for yourself and others

Always pay close attention to children you are supervising in or near water. Swim with others and in areas where lifeguards are present.

Find a beach with lifeguards 

Be aware of the dangers

Enter shallow and unknown water feet first and obey all safety signs and warning flags. Do not enter the water after drinking alcohol.

Learn more about rips, tides, waves and other hazards

Learn about how to be safe around rivers

Know your limits

Challenge yourself within your physical limits and experience. Learn safe ways of rescuing others without putting yourself in danger.

Find more information about water safety at AdventureSmart NZ

Boating safety – including kayaking, canoeing and SUPing

Life jackets

Take them – wear them. Boats, especially ones under 6 m in length, can sink very quickly. Wearing a life jacket increases your survival time in the water. 


Take two separate waterproof ways of communicating so we can help you if you get into difficulties.

VHF radio and distress beacons are the best. Learn more about beacons

Marine weather

New Zealand’s weather can be highly unpredictable. Check the local marine weather forecast before you go and expect both weather and sea state changes.

Avoid alcohol

Safe boating and alcohol do not mix. Things can change quickly on the water. You need to stay alert and aware.

Skipper responsibility

The skipper is responsible for the safety of everyone on board and for the safe operation of the boat. Stay within the limits of your vessel and your experience.

Find more information about boating safety at AdventureSmart NZ

Crossing rivers

If you plan to cross an unbridged river, you must know how to identify an unsafe river, and where and how to cross safely. You should also be prepared for being unable to cross.

If the river is flooded, you cannot find safe entry and exit points or are unsure it’s safe, do not try to cross. Turn back or wait for the river to drop - this often takes a few hours after rain, so be ready and pack emergency shelter and extra food.

A river is unsafe if there is:

  • discoloured water
  • debris in the water (such as branches)
  • water flowing faster than walking pace
  • rocks moving in the water you can hear

Learn more about river safety on the NZ Mountain Safety Council website.

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