The Government recently introduced new laws on high-power laser pointers. These devices are useful tools for astronomers to use in observatories or to point out things in the night sky. If you are involved in astronomy and use a laser pointer then you should understand the new controls and how they apply to you.

What devices are covered by the new laws?

Laser pointers are small hand-held devices that emit a tightly focused beam of light that can be concentrated onto a very small area even over long distances. Although the total power in the beam may be small (a few milliwatts), concentrating this power onto a tiny spot creates a point of very high intensity.

The new laws define a high-power laser pointer as a device that:

  1. in the Director-General of Health’s opinion, is of the kind commonly known as a laser pointer; and
  2. b. is battery operated; and
  3. is designed or intended to be operated while held in the hand; and
  4. produces a coherent beam of optical radiation of low divergence (i.e., the beam does not fan out like a torch beam); and
  5. has a power output of greater than 1 milliwatt (mW).

Note: the new laws DO NOT cover laser pointers that are 1 mW or less in power. Some other laser devices are also exempt (e.g., surveying equipment).

Why were the new controls introduced?

The controls were introduced to manage the health and safety risks from high-power laser pointers. There are two main risks from these devices.

People may not be aware of the potential harm these devices can cause and inadvertently shine them in their own eyes or other people’s eyes.

People maliciously (or ignorantly) shine them at vehicles such as aircraft and dazzle the pilot. Even when shone from several hundred meters away high-power laser pointers can dazzle and cause temporary flash blindness. Distracting or dazzling a pilot in this way for instance, is a serious aviation safety risk, particularly during critical phases of flight such as during critical phases of flight such as during take-off and/or landing. Car drivers, cyclists, and ship crews are also at risk if dazzled by high-power laser pointers.

What do the laws do?

The new controls cover the importation, sale/supply and acquisition of high-power laser pointers (devices that have a power of greater than 1 milliwatt (mW)). In summary:

The Custom Import Prohibition (High-power Laser Pointers) Order 2013 restricts the importation of high-power laser pointers to those people who have obtained authorisation to import them from the Director-General of Health.  

The Health (High-power Laser Pointers) Regulations 2013 restrict the sale/supply of high-power laser pointers to those who are authorised suppliers and also restrict the acquisition of such devices to those who are authorised recipients.

To become an authorised importer, supplier or recipient of a high-power laser pointer most people need to apply to the Director-General of Health using an application form available on the Ministry of Health’s website (there are some exceptions as described below).

What do the new laws mean for astronomy societies and their members?

Astronomy societies and their members DO NOT have to get permission to supply or acquire high-power laser pointers because the government recognises that they have a legitimate use for such devices. (Note that “supply” means both “sell” and “give for free”.) Astronomy societies and their members still need to apply for permission to import them, however.

Under the new controls the Director-General has declared that certain classes of people are approved suppliers or recipients. This means they are exempted from having to specifically apply for permission to acquire or supply such devices. Astronomy societies and their members are one of the few such approved classes of people (other approved classes include those who use laser pointers for scientific, research, or industrial purposes).

The ability to have such approved classes of persons recognises that some people have legitimate uses for such devices, will better understand their risks, take appropriate precautions to use and store devices safely, and will be unlikely to misuse their laser pointers (i.e., they will not shine them at aircraft or intentionally shine them at people).

The new controls do have some impacts on astronomy societies and their members. The key ones are noted below:

If you want to import any high-power laser pointer you will need to complete an application form, send it to the Ministry of Health, and receive an authorisation to import. You need to obtain import consent BEFORE you import the device (otherwise it will likely be seized by Customs and you will have to seek a review of seizure).

You also need to be careful that you do not supply any high-power laser pointer to any person who is not authorised to acquire one. While you are entitled to supply a device to other members of an astronomy society (who are also entitled to receive them without seeking permission), you cannot automatically supply a high-power laser pointer to anyone. For example, you cannot simply give or sell your high-power laser pointer to any member of the public if they have not received an authorisation from the Ministry of Health or are part of an approved class.

The Regulations contain offences and penalties. For example, supplying a device to another person without having reasonable grounds to believe that the person is authorised to receive it is a breach of the Regulations, and you will be liable to pay a fine.

If you wish to buy a high-power laser pointer from a New Zealand-based supplier, you will need to provide them some proof that you belong to an approved class of persons. For example, you could show them a letter from your astronomy Society, on headed paper, confirming that you are a bona fide member.

Are any other controls on laser pointers being considered?

Yes. The controls mentioned above DO NOT cover possession of laser pointers. That is, people do not have to get any authorisation to possess laser pointers that they already own. However, a proposed law change is currently being considered by Parliament. The Summary Offences (Possession of Hand-held Lasers) Amendment Bill is proposing to make it an offence to be in possession of a high-power laser pointer in a public place without having a reasonable excuse. A similar offence currently exists for knives.

Even if this proposed law change is passed by Parliament then astronomers are unlikely to be adversely impacted. Being an approved class of person, entitled to acquire high-power laser pointers under the regulations noted above, and having a legitimate reason to have a laser pointer will provide a ‘reasonable excuse’ (unless the devices are being misused).

Ultimately, however, Parliament will decide whether the Bill is passed into law.

Where do I get more information?

More information about laser pointers, the new controls and their implications for you, and how to apply for authorisation is available on the Ministry of Health’s website: http://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/environmental-health/high-power-laser-pointers

You can also email any questions on the new controls to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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The people listed below have offered to talk to RASNZ Affiliated Societies. Note that the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund is available to help with costs so that speakers from around New Zealand can travel to your location.

Frank Andrews Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Wellington Astronomical Society
  • What is time that we should be mindful of it?
  • The life history of stars and planetary systems
  • Studying the Universe in four dimensions
Steve Butler Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phone: (03) 215 7968 Southland Astronomical Society
  • Dark sky
  • Good lighting
Steve Chadwick Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Mobile: 021-054-8647 Horowhenua Astronomical Society
Grant Christie Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Mobile: 021-024-04992 Auckland Astronomical Society
John Drummond (MSc – Astronomy)

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Mobile: 0275 609 287.

Gisborne Astronomical Society.
  • Astrophotography – a range of topics
  • Deeply imaging interacting galaxies
  • Comets and meteors
  • A range of other topics – or let me know if you want a specific one...
John Dunlop Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phone: (03) 213 1348 Southland Astronomical Society
  • From horses to telescopes
  • Astronomical research at Farm Cove Observatory
  • Fire in the Sky: The 1999 Taranaki Daylight Fireball
Richard Hall Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phoenix Astronomical Society
Jennie McCormick Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phone: (09) 576 9815 Auckland Astronomical Society
John Talbot Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Phone: (04) 293 4620 Wellington Astronomical Society
  • Occultation Observing
  • The Comprehensible Cosmos
  • God: The Failed Hypothesis
  • Life in the Universe
  • Exploration of Space
  • Nothing happens for a reason
Glenn Urquhart Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Mobile: 027-4535120 Auckland Astronomical Society

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Astronomical Societies affiliated to the RASNZ have representation on the RASNZ Council through the Affiliated Society Representatives (see below). Societies have access to travel assistance for bringing guest speakers to their meetings through the Gifford-Eiby Memorial Lectureship Fund. See the list of speakers for people who have offered to come and talk to your society or can lead various sorts of workshops.

Societies also benefit through receipt of a copy of Southern Stars and contact with other astronomical societies through notices of activities and events sent out by the Affiliated Society Representatives from time to time.

Keeping in Touch newsletters are sent out to Affiliated Societies to spread the word about items that may be of interest to Societies and their members. Back issues of Keeping in Touch PDFs may be downloaded from the Affiliated Society Files page. Other files of interest to Societies may also be found there.

Contact details for Affiliated Societies are provided on the Society's Details page.

Affiliated Society Representatives

The RASNZ Affiliated Society representatives provide liaison between the various affiliated societies and the RASNZ council. From time to time we email notices to the societies. If you have an event coming up, want to share knowledge or equipment, or have anything you'd like to let the other societies or council know about please send us an email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Updates for Affiliated Society information.

Updates to the Affiliated Society's details may be sent to your This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


New Zealand law changes concerning High Powered Lasers

Law concerning the sale or supply of high powered laser pointers (greater than 1mW) has been introduced in New Zealand. There are special provisions to allow astronomical societies to obtain such pointers for astronomical use. See the details supplied by the Ministry of Health.