About Victoria Police
Release date: Wed 20 June 2007
Last updated: Fri 4 January 2013
The Water Police has the primary role of coordinating all marine incidents involving recreational vessels, yachts, fishing vessels and commercial vessels in port. These incidents often involve overdue vessels, flare sightings, broken down boats, missing divers, injured crewmembers and distress calls.
The Water Police also liaises with the following key marine agencies:
Charles Joseph La Trobe, Superintendent of the Port Phillip District, established the Water Police in 1840. By 1852, the first overseas steam service was developed and by 1855, the Water Police had grown considerably with a detachment stationed at Geelong.
In 1961, the Motor Boating Act was proclaimed and in 1962, the Motor Boating (General) Regulations came into force. The original policing was carried out by an ex-naval officer and coxswain attached to the Ports and Harbours Authority. In 1963, Victoria Police was given the task of enforcing the law provisions of the Motor Boating Act and Regulations with the start of the Motor Boating Squad in February 1964.
The squad's name was changed to the Water Police Squad in 1980 and in 1985 de-centralisation of the Water Police began. One sergeant and four senior constables are now based at Paynesville on the Gippsland Lakes. In 1992, a senior constable was permanently stationed at Benalla to cover Lakes Eildon, Hume and Dartmouth and all other waterways in north east Victoria.
Today the squad is based at Williamstown in a multi-million dollar state-of-the-art complex at the rear of the Williamstown police station. They are now co-located with the Search and Rescue Squad and are now known as the Water Police/Search and Rescue Squads. This has streamlined the administration of the squads even though they still function as separate units.
Role of the Water Police
Our main roles consist of law enforcement on the water and search and rescue. The Water Police coordinates all marine incidents throughout Victoria. They receive over 700 calls a year for assistance to these incidents.
The Water Police primarily receive calls from two areas. The Rescue Coordination Centre in Canberra which is staffed 24 hours and directly from the public reporting distress calls for assistance. Crews and equipment can be dispatched to respond to the situation. The Victoria Police Marine Coordinator oversees the entire operation and is responsible for the coordination of police resources, including assistance from the Air Wing, Search and Rescue and also volunteer search and rescue agencies.
The Water Police provides a 24-hour response service which patrols Port Phillip and Western Port bays and other waterways throughout Victoria including coastal, enclosed and inland waters. The Water Police ensures that all vessels are equipped with appropriate safety equipment, comply with registration requirements and that marine laws and regulations are enforced.
The Water Police also maintain a Marine Intelligence Unit, which assists with investigations of stolen vessels and other criminal activity on the water.
Policing Victoria's waterways is a year-round task. During the winter months when there is a slight decrease in the number of call-outs, the squad conducts intensive training and maintenance on its vessels to ensure its equipment and members are in peak working condition.
The Water Police can be used to transport other units to locations that are inaccessible by foot, for example if they are looking for a remote drug crop, serving warrants in isolated places or on vessels.
The Water Police investigates boating accidents and fatalities and prepares inquest briefs for the coroner. In incidents involving criminal offences the Water Police will lead the investigation and in all other instances can provide advice regarding prosecution to local police. The Water Police have access to a database of all registered marine vessels for assisting with investigations and recovery of stolen vessels.
In a search and rescue operation, the Water Police sometimes needs assistance from outside organisations such as the Western Port Safety Council, Australian Volunteer Coast Guard, Southern Peninsula Rescue Squad, Mornington Bay Rescue Squad, Ocean Rescue Squad at Lakes Entrance and the Royal Volunteer Coastal Patrol. On some occasions, additional volunteer groups, commercial shipping, fishing vessels and aircraft are used to assist in the operation, each of which is directed by the Marine Coordinator.
The Water Police works closely with Parks Victoria for signage regulations and with Transport Safety Victoria (Maritime Safety) and Commercial Boating for incidents regarding boating complaints. They also have a liaison with Australian Marine Safety Authority based in Canberra.
Water Police Squad and Rescue Coordination Centre
Check the laws and weather
The Water Police stresses the importance of obtaining a current and a future weather forecast, checking your safety gear and leaving your trip details with someone reliable prior to leaving the shore. The daily newspapers contain basic weather information and further information is available at the Bureau of Meteorology website, or by telephoning 1900 926 110 (Port Phillip and Western Port: Local Waters Service). A fax back service also operates by calling 1800 630 100.
A summary of the boating laws can be found in the Victorian Boating Guide, published by the State Boating Council. The complete laws (the Marine Act and Regulations) can be purchased from: