Campaign discusses hazards of crossing bar

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 52, August 2017

Bar crossings are hazardous for vessels and all those on board. One of the most dangerous in New Zealand is the expansive bar at the entrance to the country’s largest enclosed harbour – Kaipara Harbour, north of Auckland.

Bar crossing

Maritime NZ has recently completed a safety campaign with commercial operators that use Kaipara Harbour – following the capsize of the charter vessel Francie last November, with the loss of eight lives.

Northern Regional Compliance Manager, Neil Rowarth, says the campaign involved identifying operators and vessels that regularly cross the bar, and discussing safety procedures suitable for that environment.

Kaipara Harbour is a large, enclosed harbour estuary on the west coast, north of Auckland. A team of Maritime Officers met with about a dozen operators of charter and fishing vessels, many of them based at Parakai at the southern end of the harbour.

Neil says the discussions showed operators are very aware of the changeable nature of the area and the need to closely monitor conditions and weather for safe crossing. The seabed constantly changes shape as sand is swept up the west coast and is buffeted by strong currents. This causes waves to break in unpredictable patterns – included steep swells and lots of breaking water.

Around six operators regularly cross the bar to fish commercially or take passengers out fishing in the Tasman Sea.

Neil describes Kaipara Harbour bar as the “biggest, nastiest and scariest” in the country.

“It’s the biggest bar in the country – stretching for about 10 kilometres along the coast and several kilometres out from shore. A lot of water goes in and out of that vast gap.

“It’s not just a couple of waves to get through and then you are clear. Because of the width of the bar, in some conditions it could take slower vessels nearly an hour to travel from one side to the other,” he says.

The northern part of the harbour is administered by the Northland Regional Council and the southern part by the Auckland Council and Auckland Transport.

Neil says he is liaising with the harbourmasters of both authorities about issues concerning bar crossings.

“We will continue to work closely with the councils and operators involved; and urge all skippers – commercial and recreational – to take special care in this area.”

Read more on crossing the bar

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