VicPol Corporate

Recreational vessels

If you operate a recreational vessel in Victoria waters:

  • it may need to be registered
  • you may need a marine licence.

You also need to know:

  • your legal responsibilities in terms of safe operation on Victoria's waterways
  • the safety equipment you must carry
  • what to do in an emergency. 

If you participate in recreational boating in Victoria, you and the vessel(s) you operate are required to comply with the relevant marine safety laws.

Heightened risk

Heightened risk is not only limited to when there is significant likelihood that the vessel may capsize or be swamped by waves or the occupants of the vessel may fall overboard or be forced to enter the water. It also occurs when there is a restriction on the ability to anticipate such an event, such as when a hazard cannot be seen.

The Marine Safety Regulations 2012 (Vic) specify that a vessel will face heightened risk, in the following circumstances:

  • crossing or attempting to cross an ocean bar or operating within a designated hazardous area
  • being operated by a person who is the only person on board the vessel
  • being operated during the period commencing one hour after sunset and ending one hour before sunrise
  • disabled
  • where no safety barriers lifelines, rails, safety harnesses or jacklines are in use on a yacht
  • being operated during a period of restricted visibility
  • operating in an area where a warning, that is current, of the following kind has been issued by the Bureau of Meteorology:
  • gale warning
  • storm force wind warning
  • hurricane force wind warning
  • severe thunderstorm warning
  • severe weather warning.

Port Phillip Heads (the waters within a radius of three nautical miles from Point Lonsdale) is a designated hazardous area and comes within the definition of heightened risk. Lifejackets must be worn on all vessels under 12 metres. For details, please read the Safety Alert: Port Phillip Heads.


Personal Watercrafts (PWC)

A PWC includes jet skis, wave runners and similar vessels that have an engine used for propulsion, fully enclosed hull, don’t retain water and are operated by standing, kneeling or sitting astride. It is important to remember that all these are just another type of powered vessel and must be operated within the rules relating to powerboats. PWCs are generally much more powerful and manoeuvrable than traditional powerboats.

They can pose a danger to the operator and to other people if not ridden safely and responsibly. Refer to the Vessel Operating and Zoning Rules for State and local regulations relevant to any waterway you intend to use. Always read signage placed at boat ramps and on shore. Some local rules may apply specifically to PWCs so be familiar with the area you intend to operate in. If you are unsure of local rules and conditions, ask the local waterway manager for information.


Penalties exist for those vessel operators who do not follow the rules. On-the-spot infringements may be issued. 

In addition to any penalty that may be imposed on the person for any hoon offence, a vessel may be embargoed, impounded, immobilised or seized. 

In the case of serious safety offences, court action or cancellation of your marine licence can also occur. As a responsible vessel operator, you should follow the rules outlined in the Boating Safety Handbook.


A kitesurfer on the water is considered to be vessel and as such must adhere to all applicable rules and regulations.

Paddle craft

Paddle craft are vessels such as canoes, kayaks, row boats, surf skis and stand up paddle boards.

Towed sports

Towed water sports include activities such as waterskiing, wakeboarding, tubing and kneeboarding.

Remember: Inflatable items being towed tend to be pulled to the outside of turns as they have little grip on the water, resulting in high speeds and little directional control during turns. Multiple occupants of inflatable devices have an increased risk of injury due to collisions between occupants.

Reviewed 15 October 2020

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