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Commercial Vessel Operation

This page explains licensing and regulatory requirements for commercial vessel operators in the Nelson District. Licences are required, and must be renewed annually.

To request more information or to discuss a proposed operation, please contact the Council Harbourmaster on +64 3 539 3891 or via email.

•    Summary of National Regulatory Requirements
•    Nelson District Regulatory Requirements
•    Nelson City Council Navigation Safety Bylaw (No. 218)
•    Application or Renewal Form

Licence Required

In order to operate a commercial service, scheduled, non-scheduled or offering rental services, a licence must first be obtained from Council.

Licences will only be issued when Council is satisfied that the operation:

  • will not diminish the level of safety of other activities in the vicinity;
  • will not cause congestion or any unsafe practice at points of embarkation or disembarkation, or at any place en route.

Summary of National Regulatory Requirements

If a motorised vessel of any size is being used for ‘hire and reward’ in any way, then a number of requirements under The Maritime Transport Act 1994 and the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. Maritime Rules also apply.

Safe Ship Management and Qualified Crew

In general, for boats less than 45m long the vessel should be under the supervision of a Safe Ship Management company, and the crew should be appropriately qualified.

The requirements vary depending upon the nature of use, for example a boat can be rated as a ‘Hire and Drive’ boat so it can be hired by the general public for their own recreation.

These requirements apply if any money changes hands for the use of the boat, or if the crew or passengers are being paid while using the boat. For example, if a scientist is being paid to take some water samples, or a tradesman is being transported to a remote building site, then the vessel should be certified and the skipper should be qualified. If a ‘hire and drive’ boat is being used for this purpose, then it should also be rated as fit to ply as a ‘passenger vessel’ or ‘non-passenger vessel’ as appropriate, under its Safe Ship Management System, and the skipper should be qualified.

Fishing Vessels and Non-motorised Craft

  • Commercial fishing vessels are subject to similar requirements, and must be registered with the Ministry of Fisheries.
  • Non-motorised vessels, including yachts and paddle craft like rafts and kayaks, are also subject to specialised Maritime Rules or Guidelines in most cases.

Any local enquiries regarding qualifying as a commercial skipper, or to bring a vessel into commercial operation, should be directed to the Industry Liaison Advisor at Maritime New Zealand’s office at 36 Graham Street, Port Nelson, phone +64 3 548 2434.

Nelson District Regulatory Requirements

Commercial Vessel Operation Licence

In addition to the requirements above, commercial vessel operators wishing to operate anywhere within the Nelson District territory are subject to the requirement under the Nelson City Council Navigation Safety Bylaw (No. 218) to hold either a Commercial Vessel Operation licence, or an exemption.

The primary objective of this requirement is to preserve the District’s reputation as a safe and enjoyable place for tourism and for boating and watersports in general. Accordingly, the requirement is not currently applied to genuine commercial fishing vessels and genuine workboats that do not carry passengers or frequent the more popular parts of the coastline.

If you intend to hire a vessel or other watercraft to anyone, or transport people who have paid for an experience (for example a charter boat, guided rafting or kayaking, guided fishing where a boat is used to access the water to be fished and so on) then please contact the Harbourmaster at or Nelson City Council Customer Service Centre to discuss your intentions.


Operations may apply for an exemption from the requirement to hold a licence, for example a campground or motel hiring or loaning small unpowered dinghies, sailboats or paddle craft as ‘part of the package’. No annual charges apply if an exemption is held, but a renewal datef will be specified.

The operator will be required to demonstrate that the equipment is fit for purpose and that appropriate customer briefing and supervision procedures are documented (this can be a very simple plan in most cases), to the satisfaction of the Harbourmaster.

Navigation Safety Bylaw

Read details of the Nelson City Council Navigation Safety Bylaw (No. 218)


Application or Renewal of Commercial Vessel Operation Licence (141KB PDF)