A former owner of sunken vessel Francie says New Zealand risks another major boating tragedy if maritime rules are not overhauled.

John Barnaby said regulations need to be toughened to reduce the risk of more lives being lost on the Kiwi coastline - particularly when it comes to bar crossings.

Barnaby, who knew most of those who died in November's Kaipara Harbour fishing tragedy, said introducing compulsory boat licences for both commercial and recreational boaties would be a basic improvement. Other measures, such as stricter rules covering notoriously dangerous spots like bars, need to be looked at to tighten safety measures.

Francie sank on the Kaipara bar three months after an independent surveyor declared it seaworthy. The boat's certification allowed it to operate over the Kaipara bar and owner Bill McNatty was a licensed skipper.


"They need to re-examine crossing the bars and allowing it to go on like it does," Barnaby said from Australia. "Particularly the Kaipara, Manukau and Greymouth bars."

Barnaby said New Zealand authorities should consider measures taken in Australia, where the Coastguard has the power to step in and close certain areas of the water.

"That's what they do here, they close beaches here if there's a shark sighting and close bars at the drop of a hat if it appears to be too rough."

Maritime New Zealand warns "extreme caution" must be exercised when crossing bars - collections by sand or silt near harbour entrances which can see unusually sudden and steep waves without warning.

Barnaby sold the Francie to friend McNatty in October 2013 and the pair stayed in contact regularly, last speaking two weeks before the sinking.

When he was operating charter trips on the Francie, Barnaby said he always tried to avoid bar crossings because of the risks involved.

Barnaby said although McNatty made a bad call on the day to cross the bar, the verdict would probably have been a "group decision" to go ahead.

"If one good thing could come out of this tragedy, it's get the regulations changed," he said.