Northland's marine services industry faces a multimillion-dollar hit while the international sailing fleet is locked out by Covid-19 border restrictions.
Last week the Advocate reported that more than 300 yachts which usually sail to Northland to avoid the Pacific cyclone season are stranded in places such as Fiji and French Polynesia.
While the yachties are worried about storms and insurance — cover is void once the cyclone season starts — marine business owners in Northland worry about the impact on their livelihoods.
Whangārei's Brendan Lockie, owner of Canvas and Covers, said about 80 per cent of his business in summer was making items such as sail and cockpit covers for the ''blue water cruisers'' which arrived in October-November to avoid cyclone season.
With his international customers spending up to $12,000 each, their absence left a huge gap to fill.
''We're getting little bits and pieces of work, but there's nothing big going on. Whether these boats come down or not will make a big difference to a lot of people.''
Lockie and his two staff were lucky that locals had been getting work done on their boats during the Covid-19 crisis but there was no telling how long that would last.
Murray Wilkinson, owner of Norsand boatyard in Whangārei, said he relied on international vessels for 70 per cent of his business and the jobs of his 34 staff.
''So it's pretty huge. We want them back desperately. Northland has built up a good international reputation over the past 40 years — that could crash overnight if, say, Australia opens up to them before we do. No one wants Covid here but I think we're letting them down badly.''
Wilkinson said arriving by yacht was the safest form of immigration. The crew had already been in isolation for an average of 10 days when they arrived, and they could stay on board for the remainder of their quarantine.
Whangarei Marine Promotions Group chairman Brian Caulton said past surveys had found visiting yachts spent on average $50,000-$60,000 during their six-month stay in Northland. That included living expenses but a large proportion was spent in marine businesses.
With about 200 boats calling in to Whangārei each season, that meant the city could miss out on $10 million, he said.
Caulton said Northland's marinas and hard stands were ''pretty full'' but that was because many boaties had stayed though winter instead of making the traditional voyage up to the islands.
Some of those owners had flown home so, apart from mooring fees, they wouldn't be spending anything in Northland this summer.
As of Friday Fiji had just eight active cases of Covid-19 but French Polynesia — which reopened its borders last month amid fears for its tourist industry — is experiencing an outbreak with 35 new cases on Friday alone.
Ministry wary about opening 'back door' to NZ
Overseas yachties stranded in the Pacific who want to enter New Zealand before the cyclone season won't be allowed in for financial reasons alone, the Ministry of Health says.
The Ocean Cruising Club, which represents long-distance sailors, said insurance for about 300 yachts stranded in Fiji and French Polynesia would be void if they stayed in the cyclone zone. Many had no safe refuge if a big storm did hit.
With New Zealand's maritime border closed since June 30, overseas yachties can enter only if they get an exemption from the director-general of health for ''compelling humanitarian reasons''.
There are also exemptions for some foreign commercial vessels such as cargo ships and fishing boats.
A ministry spokeswoman said the bar to qualify for humanitarian exemption had to be high to avoid creating an unwanted ''back door'' into New Zealand.
The ministry had advised applicants that humanitarian reasons would be unlikely to include situations relating solely to financial loss, or to vessels travelling primarily for pleasure or convenience such as ''wintering over'' to avoid the cyclone season.
Boaties could have genuine humanitarian reasons for entering New Zealand but financial loss alone was unlikely to suffice, she said.
All applications were considered on their individual circumstances and there was no class exemption for foreign yachts.
Applicants also had to apply to Immigration NZ for permission to enter.