With many bays now obstructed by boat moorings in Auckland, Northland and Coromandel, finding an anchorage in a sheltered haven has become increasingly difficult. Perhaps a change in the ‘moorings mindset’ is required? Story by Jim Lott.

Recent decades have seen Auckland Yachting and Boating Association and Yachting New Zealand (YNZ) head to court in costly legal actions to protect our most sheltered anchorages in places such as Stoney Bay at Great Barrier Island and Rakino Island.

One of the strongest arguments presented to courts is the importance of safe, sheltered anchorages being available to visiting yachts and launches.

But when a family arrives late in the day looking for a sheltered anchorage for the night, it’s often impossible if there is a fish farm or if the bay is full of moorings.

At the height of the season many of these moorings will be occupied by a vessel belonging to the person who has the licence for the mooring. But for much of the year – in some cases as much as 11 months – the mooring remains unoccupied.

Visiting craft are forced to anchor outside the moorings where it is frequently more exposed. Yachts and launches can be seen in all months of the year in the relatively mild weather in the northern part of the country.


Seeing a group of anchored boats bouncing about in a chop while unoccupied moorings float in peace defies logic.


The morality of having a licence to occupy a section of the seabed and then preventing anyone else from using that space at all times has to be questioned. There is no question that the legitimate mooring owner has the right to use the mooring to moor their own boat whenever they wish, or to allow a friend to use it. The owner must have priority rights at all times.

But when the mooring is not occupied by its owner, a visiting vessel is unable to anchor due to the likelihood of their anchor fouling the mooring’s heavy ground tackle. Use of the safe haven is therefore denied.

As we see more boats on the water with less space to anchor, denying others the use of a space that sits unused belies the fundamental principle of sailors helping sailors.


During the past seven years as we cruised far and wide in our yacht Victoria, we have seen different approaches to anchoring and the use of moorings by visiting yachts.


In North America, Britain and Europe, it is accepted practice in many places for a visiting craft to pick up an unused mooring rather than anchoring. Wisdom suggests that a mooring with a small amount of growth is not currently being used. Whenever a mooring is borrowed, decency dictates that someone stays on board to shift the vessel in case the owner arrives with their boat.

In some cases, a charge is made. This can be a harbourmaster coming alongside in a small boat, an honesty box on a mooring or by payment ashore at a shop. Often a single overnight stay is not charged for.

While cruising in western Scotland on Victoria we picked up a mooring and when checking at a local store we were advised that the owner was Princess Anne and the mooring was available for a couple of nights.

The location of moorings is authorised by councils. Moorings are currently marked with their registered number. All moorings are required to be regularly inspected professionally as part of the licence to have a mooring (normally every three years). Each mooring has a maximum size (length) of boat that is permitted to use it.


That councils make it clear in their Navigation Safety Bylaws that it is not an offence to use an unoccupied mooring IN LIEU OF ANCHORING subject to:

• the mooring owner/licensee has priority rights to use his/ her mooring at all times


• that the length of stay is restricted to one night (16 hours)

• that at all times a person who can move the vessel remains on board in case the owner arrives in their boat

• that the visiting vessel uses a mooring that is approved for the size of their boat.


If a visiting boat damages the mooring in any way, the person who caused the damage is responsible. This already applies to any damage a vessel causes to another person’s property.


The responsibility for a vessel’s safety lies solely with the skipper (Maritime Transport Act S19).


I contacted one of the principal marine insurance companies and was advised that so long as a skipper takes sensible precautions including using a mooring that has been serviced and is the correct size for their vessel, their insurance should remain valid. The company also pointed out that a properly maintained mooring is likely to be safer than using the vessel’s own anchor for an overnight stay.


At present, each mooring is marked with its registered number. This proposal will result in additional requirements including:

• the date of servicing

• the size of boat the mooring is approved for. This could be addressed by colour-coding of buoys or a marking similar to the registration number.


It would be helpful to have the mooring owner’s mobile phone number shown on the mooring.

Being able to contact the owner easily would allow the normal courtesy that applies when borrowing from someone.

It would ensure the owner is not about to use the mooring and it would also allow a longer term arrangement to be made if it suited both parties. It would enable a payment if the owner requested, although it is debatable whether many mooring owners would make a charge for a single night.

The development of an ‘app’ that connects mooring holders to visiting skippers is another way forward for those who wish to be involved. It could also facilitate longer use of a mooring with the owner’s permission and deal with any charge an owner wishes to make. The long term use of a mooring or renting out a mooring is a separate topic from the overnight stop instead of anchoring in this proposal.


The concept of using moorings in lieu of anchoring is commonplace overseas but has never been adopted by sailors in New Zealand. Such a change in mindset involves not only skippers, but also mooring owners.

No doubt some mooring owners will throw up their hands in horror at the idea. Paradoxically, the mooring owner most opposed may well be the first to offer assistance to a fellow sailor in difficulty, perhaps with an anchor dragging in a breeze. Looking after each other at sea is an honourable tradition. Extending this to allowing casual use of a mooring in lieu of anchoring is not a huge step.

It is worth noting that allowing the overnight use of an unoccupied mooring will benefit all, including mooring owners when they visit other places. Further benefit comes from freeing up anchoring space for others.

In the past year I have discussed this proposal with many people and organisations. I have received strong support for the concept from the Boating Industry Association, YNZ, RNZYS, Coastguard Education, and many mooring owners. We normally keep our yacht at an Auckland marina but we also own a mooring in the Bay of Islands.