New Boaters

Disclaimer: These tips for new boaters are offered in good faith. It typically takes years of practice to develop competent  skills as a jet boater. The information below will give you some ideas to start with.  Taking any opportunity to ride with more experienced boaters can be a great way to learn. Be aware of your own limitations.

Your first few Branch events

It is very sensible to call the organiser of an event prior to the start. If he/she knows you are coming (and you each exchange details of colour of boat/ tow vehicle to help recognition) then you are more likely to get the assistance you need.

Most boaters acquire a 4WD eventually, but if you do not have one at first, other members usually enjoy assisting with launch and retrieval- it’s all in how you ask!!

Riding in someone else’s boat is highly recommended as a learning step, as is getting an experienced boater to ride with you. It’s worth doing this a few times, especially during your first few years.

Wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) at ALL times you and your crew are in the boat is a JBNZ requirement. The risks are high but so are the rewards.

The Safe Boating Check List and in the Safety Hand Book. Ask an experienced boater to check your boat (the event organiser is well placed to advise you on who is best qualified to do this). Expect to check your boat repeatedly in the first year. It takes time to achieve a high standard.

When first heading off, note where a deep stopping pool is and don’t stop boating until you are safely back into this pool. New Boaters have some times crashed or run aground just at the end of a run as they sight the trailers!! (i.e. “Do Not turn brain off!!”)

On the River

One reliable rule of thumb for river boating is “The Water is always lazy”. Whenever the water changes direction or speed them some geographic feature or hazard altered and caused it to happen. Ask yourself “why did it happen and what effect will it cause?”

If water turbulence is seen amongst otherwise still water,then rocks, logs or a shallow section are likely.

Another great rule is “First up, first down”. Where first means, take the first channel with clearly enough water to be boatable. This rule is especially applicable in braided rivers such as those of the Canterbury Plains.

At any corner there is a high likelihood that water will be deepest at the outside, this is because water first tries to continue in a straight line and over time this water will gouge a deeper and deeper channel at the outside.

Turning on a narrow river? It pays to identify which is the deep side, then start the turn on the shallow side. This means you will completing the turn in the deep section when your speed is slowest and the boat has settled deeper in the water. This minimizes the risk of running aground.

 Boat Retrieval

It’s relatively easy to understand why positioning the trailer so the back points downstream makes driving the boat on easier. But do you understand why the trailer and tow vehicle should NOT be in line? Having the tow vehicle at an angle to the trailer, makes initial retrieval easier. It’s basic physics so probably best you experiment or ask a more experienced boater.

Spinning the tires on the tow vehicle in an attempted retrieval is likely to dig an embarrassing hole for yourself! Its better to model yourself on a slow steamroller. Moving quietly back and forward compacts the gravel. At the very first sign of spinning stop and reverse direction. Each attempt usually extends the area of compacted gravel or sand. Even only a small amount each time will eventually add up. Only when this isn’t working is it time to ask a mate to also tow.

Practice makes perfect?

Rather than just boating once up and down the river, it is great training to re-boat some rapids multiple times. Chances are that as your apprehension and heart rate drops your confidence and competence will climb.

Look constantly for deep pools and practice stopping safely in them. Recognizing where pools occur (and why) should then become a semi-automatic reaction. This skill is going to save you a push one day!!

A important skill is recognizing and finding safe places to beach your boat. The ideal is where half the boat is securely wedged on the gravel or bank but the jet unit remains poised over a deep pool. Check out where the experienced boaters park.

Recognizing River Patterns

A lot of the acquired skill in reading rivers is recognizing the recurring patterns. So stop often (in those deep holes) and study any place where the river changes direction. Ask yourself what caused the inherently lazy water to change its momentum and direction.

Look at the willows on the bank. Are they on the inside or outside of corners, the shallows or the deep. Now look ahead 500m or so and see if the pattern of willows you see gives an idea of the path of the river ahead.

Are the steeper banks on the inside or outside of corners. What does this tell you about where the deeper water tends to be?

Look for faster moving areas of water, this will usually be deeper than the slower moving sections.

There is often a deep (and thus safer) section close to any big logs or rocks under water. This is caused by water being pushed around and scouring out the riverbed.

 Is your boat ready?

Most people have been embarrassed by forgetting to put in the bung at some time. Consider some system to remind you of this. (a mounting on the dash, for the bung when its not in use, is one system).

Two push poles about two inches in diameter and just under 2m long are an invaluable tool. As well as being useful to leverage the boat forward when you run aground, ask someone who knows about using them as a “rocket launcher” in shallow water.

Standard car batteries don’t seem to handle the vibration of jet boats. Spending the extra on high quality Marine batteries is a good long term saving.

Fitting starter motors as high as possible out of the bilges pays off.

Downhill boating is harder than upstream boating

Therefore in rapids or constrained areas:


  1. Visibility. Compare what you can see when standing just back from the top and the bottom of a flight of stairs. Rocks and hazards are hidden just as the risers are hidden when looking from above.
  2. Water speed. At any given boat speed the speed at which you are approaching the immovable rocks and hazards is markedly different depending on upstream or downstream direction.
  3. A chance to pause. There is usually a pool at the bottom of rapids, this allows a pause in boating and a chance to plan the next directions. There is no such chance above rapids since these areas are more typically shallow.

Passing Rules


When approaching another boat:

  • each boat moves/turns to the right
  • passing port side to port side
  • the left side passes the left side
  • the drivers side is closest to the drivers side

When passing from behind:

  • you can boat either side with care

It is important to realize this is the opposite to how we drive on the left of the road in NZ. (There is some evidence that this difference may account for some crashes of boats and jet skis).

A Quick Check list for Safe Jet Boating

  • Personal Flotation Device (PFD)
  • First Aid Kit
  • Waterproof matches
  • Thermal blanket
  • Food
  • Two paddles/oars
  • Battery isolating switch
  • Bilge pump-electric – 4400 l/hr
  • Fire extinguishers – 1.4 kg/1.75L + NZS45503 annually
  • Tow rope – minimum of 10m long x 12mm rope
  • Orange flag [600mm x 600mm]
  • Reasonable tool kit and spares
  • Flame arrestors on carb/air inlets
  • All exposed moving parts safely covered
  • Fuel lines/filters/taps as per Safe Boating Check List
  • Steering system safe with effective locking devices
  • Boats silenced to 80 dBa
  • Rego letters on boat and trailer
  • Communication equipment
  • Alcohol and boating can be a dangerous combination

The Buddy System

On any club run you have a responsibility to other boaters. Whether boating up or down river your navigator is expected to glance behind regularly (that’s every bend or two) and check the next boat in the “convoy” is still following.

If you do not see them the onus is on YOU to slow down or stop and wait 2-3 minutes. If they do not appear then turning around should be considered. (Safety and size of waterway for passing is the consideration). When stopping raise your hand to indicate you are stopping to the boat ahead of you.

In this way the whole group will become aware of the need to slow or stop.


JBNZ Safe Boating Check List

 Click here to view the Safe Boating Check List.

Matt Claridge from Water Safety has pointed out that historically rivers account for a significant portion of drownings in New Zealand.

“In 2005 a total of 29 people drowned in rivers, streams, and creeks. This represented 28% of total drownings for the year. Mr Claridge points out that unlike surf beaches, public pools, and offshore waters there are no agencies responsible for rescue in rivers.

“The dynamics of rivers are different. The force of water coming down a river can be deceptive. Not many people realize that a cubic meter of water weighs a tonne. If you get trapped in rocks, or up against tree branches, you have very little chance of being able to pull yourself out.”

The value of having your boat’s equipment match up to the JBNZ Safe Boating Check List cannot be emphasized enough.