Boat capsizes crossing river bar

Lookout! Issue 28, April 2013

Two men were thrown into the sea when the engine of their 6 metre runabout stalled as they crossed the bar at a river mouth.

The tide was going out and the men tried to get across by riding a wave in. The engine cut out and before the men could restart it, the boat was capsized by a second wave.

One man was pinned underwater between the boat and rocks. He had a bad gash to the head and was unconscious when a surfer who”d witnessed the capsize reached him. The rescuer supported him in the water while the rip carried them 300 metres down the coast, where they struggled ashore, and were met by emergency services.

The second man was helped ashore by another surfer.

Both men suffered shock and hypothermia, and one had a head injury, but they were aware the outcome could have been much worse and considered themselves fortunate to have survived.


  • It is not known what caused the runabout’s engine to stall. It had been serviced the day before the capsize, and there was plenty of fuel in the tank.
  • River bars, where the sea meets fresh water, are notoriously dangerous, and if boaties don’t get the timing right they can put themselves at serious risk. By trying to cross the bar on an outgoing tide, these men had picked the wrong time.
  • The skipper had many years of experience with boats and should have been aware of the requirements for crossing bars, which are well advertised by MNZ. The Safer Boating Essential Guide clearly states, “The best time to cross a bar is at high water. Avoid crossing when the tide is going out. Cross when the tide is coming in, keeping the boat on the back of a wave.”
  • Lifejackets should be worn in situations of heightened risk, such as when crossing a bar, and both men were wearing theirs in this instance. Lifejackets save lives, they reduce tendency to panic, lengthen the survival time in the water, and can support the wearer in the water should they become unconscious.

To learn more about crossing a bar:

  • attend a Coastguard Boating Education bar crossing course
  • practise crossing the bar under guidance from an experienced skipper with local knowledge
  • read the bar crossing information on the MNZ website
  • order a sticker: email
  • view crossing the bar clips on MNZ’s YouTube channel Boat Safety in New Zealand

Watch “Bar Crossings”

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