Coastguard Kaipara leads bar awareness and education trip

What better way to reinforce good decision-making on the Kaipara Bar than an exhilarating practical experience out over the Kaipara Bar onboard Amara. Amara is a vessel specifically designed for crossing the Kaipara Bar, with 1200hp, a cruising speed of 20knts and a length of 20m this is a very capable vessel operated by the seasoned Mark Donaldson (over 40 years of Kaipara Bar crossings) and Daniel Van Der Star, the up-and-coming skipper.

Last Friday Coastguard Kaipara took 21 people out over the Kaipara Bar on the Amara on a Kaipara Bar Awareness and Education Trip. The purpose of the trip was for Coastguard to learn what’s involved in running a practical bar awareness course, and for participants to put into practice learnings from bar awareness seminars that Coastguard held in Helensville and Otahuhu last year.

The Amara was accompanied by Winston Rescue, Coastguard Kaipara’s rescue vessel for training purposes. Participants on the Amara came from as far as Waiau Pa on the Manukau Harbour for this valuable experience. Volunteers from Coastguard North Kaipara also participated.

Participants said, “It left us with no illusions regarding the risk involved with crossing harbour bars and the skills required."

Coastguard Kaipara’s President, Iain Gulliford, said Coastguard is working to deliver more bar awareness training before Labour Weekend.

Whilst all bars are dangerous, they have their unique attributes. For the Kaipara there is the time it takes to get to the bar and the time to cross the bar. In addition, the Old South Channel has a “Dog Leg” course to follow. There are the massive standing waves, the calmer gaps where the channels run, the “washing machine effect” and notes on charts for the Kaipara Harbour say “A dangerous, confused sea except in very fine weather”.

Weather and sea conditions determine the actual time, but it’s approximately an hour for the Amara to get from its base in the Hoteo river out to the Kaipara Bar. Crossing times again vary for the actual bar and onboard the Coastguard Kaipara Rescue Vessel we have experienced an ¾ hour cross. This trip the crossing times were fairly quick especially on the return trip through the “Tory Channel or “South Channel”.

When conducting an practical exercise such as this safety is a big factor and Dan from Amara gave a good clear briefing before departing, along the first part of the journey where there is a speed restriction in place Coastguard volunteers were able to engage with passengers and talk about some of the factors and considerations that were needed when crossing a bar – essentially we’re trying to get people to think more about themselves and their situation before heading out and with the knowledge that good decision making is essential for coming back home safely. Local iwi representative Richard Nahi (who also some years back was a volunteer for Coastguard Kaipara) gave a Karakia to guide us safely out and back and we were underway passing very closely to the State Hwy Bridge as traffic thundered over the top.

During the crossing of the bar outbound Mark used his experience to know that a good-sized wave would be found sooner or later. About ½ way through, he slowed to hold position as the wave essentially formed. Once past, Amara was given some juice and was swiftly well clear of the dangerous Kaipara Bar. Winstone Rescue which had been trailing at a good distance however caught a bit more of the wave as it came through before using its Honda Outboards to power clear too.

Outside of the bar everyone was able to take stock of the experience and a quick run through was performed by Coastguard Volunteers on wearing life jackets and attaching a PLB (Personal Locating Beacon) to the lifejacket which in an emergency does two things:

  1. Something has happened to me - In an emergency or if you suddenly find yourself in the water you might not have time to use other distress methods.
  2. Your location – A latitude and Longitude in other words a position for Coastguard to look for you.

Both points obviously very handy. Please be responsible with your PLB or EPIRB and visit where there is a lot more information and you can register your beacon – another very important step to not skip!

Coastguard volunteers also took participants through a simple evaluation tool that is used to assess Crew/Vessel/Weather/Conditions/Tide State and provide a score that may change one’s mind on whether a crossing is suitable or not, however like any tool training is required and this exercise was done with the intention of getting participants to think more in-depth about the various parts than can affect a bar crossing.

A very welcome bonus just outside of the bar was a visit by Hector’s/Maui Dolphins who played around Amara before promptly disappearing, Dan from Amara informed us that unfortunately they are seeing less and less of the Hectors/Maui Dolphins which makes it all the more important to report to DOC

Amara was back on the plane with the incoming waves matching our speed (approx. 20 knts) and sitting just off the stern, this also enabled a very quick transit using the Tory Channel to re-enter the Kaipara Harbour – a very different passage to the outgoing one.

As the tide was too low to allow our return just yet into the Hoteo, we anchored up for lunch and Q&A time once again with the Amara Crew and, just like at the bar awareness evening held at the Helensville Primary School hall, this was well received.

As the incoming tide allowed, we returned to Amara’s dock – a quick debrief was held with thanks to Amara and its crew and to Coastguard New Zealand and Maritime New Zealand for putting on the knowledge gaining excursion.

Local kaumatua, Richard Nahi closed us out with a blessing and explanation/elaboration of his earlier Karakia which focused on the importance of the Hoteo River and the life it supports and how it feeds the Kaipara. Of particular concern for the Hoteo at this very point in time is the proposed tip being fought in the Environment Court with closing statements held on the very same day we held our bar awareness trip. Richard also encourage those who wish to find out more

Richard Downer, Media Officer, Coastguard Kaipara 0272777735
[email protected]

Thanks to our life-saving partners:
  • Auckland Council
  • Northland Regional Council
  • Waikato Regional Council
  • Hutchwilco
  • Marine Deals
  • Tower
  • Kordia
  • Hyundai
  • Line7
  • Century Batteries
  • Half Moon Bay
  • NZCT
  • Lotteries Grants Board
  • Lion Foundation
  • Pub Charity