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Voluntary officers keep an eye on the river

Twenty pairs of eyes are keeping a close watch on the Waikato River these days.

They belong to honorary enforcement officers under the Navigation Safety Bylaw, who have the job of keeping the river safe for various recreational users from rowers and swimmers to jetskiers and power boaters.

The voluntary officers are managed by Environment Waikato, which administers the Navigation Safety Bylaw, and watch the river during weekends and evenings when there’s plenty of activity. They cover from Cambridge to Port Waikato, with Waipa District Council taking care of activities further south.

Environment Waikato passed a reviewed Navigation Safety Bylaw earlier this month. It covers the entire Waikato Region, except for Lake Taupo and Taharoa Harbour, to ensure safety on all navigable waterways – sea, harbours, lakes and rivers. It allows people to use water for water skiing, swimming, boating, kayaking or other water activities safely, and some areas are zoned to avoid people interfering with others’ activities.

Most of the volunteer officers have a background in water activities of some sort including boating, jetskiing, rowing, water skiing or power boating. Several live close to the river and all have a good understanding of the various activities allowed in each stretch. Some were previously employed by Hamilton City Council and Franklin District Council.

Environment Waikato relies on them to report problems, and issues them with uniforms and warrant cards to identify them to river users. They are unpaid and are only permitted to issue warning notices – and serious offences are reported to Environment Waikato’s navigation safety officer Bill Cameron.

Mr Cameron says the coming summer season will be used as an education time to ensure people who use the water understand the new rules and where activities are permitted.

The bylaw is designed to ensure that passive activities, such as rowing or swimming don’t clash with powered activities such as jetskiing or water skiing.

The officers will meet monthly with Mr Cameron or more often if needed to discuss issues as they arise.

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