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Recreational vessels

Learn tools and safety tips you need before heading out on a recreational vessel such as a boat.

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.

Boating

  • Any boat with an engine capable of being used for propulsion in Victorian waters must be registered and in a seaworthy condition. Certain vessels are exempt from this requirement.

    Registration must be renewed with VicRoads every 12 months. VicRoads will notify you when your registration is due for renewal. The trailer used to tow your vessel will need to be registered separately. Visit Transport safety Victoria for more information.  

  • You must know how to safely handle your vessel in all situations, including launching and retrieving, when  anchoring and when  refuelling. You must also understand the maximum load your vessel can safely carry.

    • Always wear a lifejacket. 
    • Check the weather forecasts. Consider postponing your trip if the weather is unfavourable and avoid areas exposed to high wind and waves.
    • Ensure your boat is properly maintained, the battery is fully charged and you have enough fuel on board.
    • Seek up-to-date local knowledge and obtain a copy of the appropriate chart or map for the area you will be navigating.
    • Always let someone know where you are going and when you plan to return.
    • Ensure you have the correct safety equipment aboard your boat and you know how to wear it correctly.
    • Don’t drink alcohol while boating.
    • Observe speeds and distances.
    • Operate at a safe speed and always maintain a good lookout. 

    For information on boating safety or call 1800 223 022 for a copy of the Victorian Recreational Boating Safety Handbook.

    • Check your vessel is fit-for-purpose and all lights, electrics, ropes etc are well maintained
    • Ensure you are carrying the required safety equipment
    • Check the weather and tides
    • Familiarise yourself with the waterway rules
    • Let someone know before you go.
  • Printing out and filling in our 'pre-trip checklist' is a great way to make sure you haven't forgotten to do anything before you leave shore. You can download it here as a PDF or accessible word document:

    Vessel pre-trip checklist PDF, 156.8 KB

     

  • It is illegal in Victoria for a PWC operator or owner to allow or cause a PWC to be used unless it is registered. Conditions of registration require that the PWC is in good working order and engine kill switches are operable, so maintain your PWC after each trip and have it regularly serviced.

    The registration label must be in a prominent position on the outside or upper part of the vessel. If you own a Victorian registered PWC, you must ensure that the identification mark assigned for your PWC is painted or displayed in appropriate characters:

    (a) on each side of the hull of the vessel

    (b) forward of the beam

    (c) so that the highest part of each digit commences at a point no more than 25 mm below the gunwale.

    ‘Appropriate’ means characters that are:

    (a) no less than 100 mm high

    (b) in proportionate breadth, and

    (c) coloured in contrast to the surface on which they are displayed.

    It is illegal for you to act as the master of a registered vessel on Victorian waters unless an identification mark is painted or displayed on your PWC in accordance with the above. These identification marks must be conspicuous and distinguishable from any decal or striping that you may have used to decorate or customise your PWC. Interstate registered vessels must display registration numbers or marks as required by the relevant State or Territory.

  • On all Victorian waters a five knot speed limit applies to all operators within:

    • 50 m of a person, for example a swimmer
    • 50 m of another vessel
    • 100 m of a vessel or buoy on which a 'diver below' signal corresponding to the International Code Flag 'A' is displayed – a white/blue flag.

    On coastal and enclosed waters, a five knot speed limit applies to all vessels:

    • Within 200 m of the water's edge, except in an access lane
    • Within 50 m of any wharf or similar structure including a jetty, slipway, diving platform or boat ramp, except in an access lane
    • When passing through a recognised anchorage for small vessels.

    On inland waters a five knot speed limit applies to all vessels within:

    • 50 m of the water's edge
    • 50 m of any fixed or floating structure in or on the water.

    Note: the local authority may specifically exclude waters by notice or the waters may be designated for other purposes.

  • Regular maintenance of your vessel is essential to preventing fire on your boat.

    Ski boats with inboard petrol powered engines are most vulnerable to fire risk. Older vessels where electrical and automotive components have aged and become worn are also commonly involved in fire related incidents.

    Converted car engines or non-marinised engines installed  in boats create a higher risk of fire or explosion, particularly where owners may have attempted to modify their boat themselves or used unqualified technicians to do the work.

    Boats that spend long periods of time out of the water need to be carefully checked for fire hazards before being used for the first time in the season.

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.

    • In surf areas, swimmers may be hidden from view by waves and swell.
    • keep well away from areas where swimmers are likely to be present or slow to 5 knots or less
    • do not cut blind corners – slow down
    • if you have difficulty seeing properly because your vision is affected by the sun or spray – slow down or stop
    • keep well clear of anchored or moored vessels
    • in channels and narrow stretches of water, you must operate to the right of the centre of the channel » on inland waterways, powered vessels must travel in an anticlockwise direction in relation to the approximate centre of the waterway, unless otherwise specified in a waterway rule
    • navigation lights are required if your PWC is used on the water between sunset and sunrise, and in times of restricted visibility
    • water does not ‘give’ when you hit it at speed – you will probably break bones and, if you are not wearing protective clothing, sustain serious internal injuries.
  • As a PWC operator, you have a legal duty to take reasonable care for your own safety and for the safety of anyone who may be affected by your actions.

    Assess the risks associated with operating a PWC and be aware of the changing nature of the maritime environment. PWCs can accelerate very quickly and can be noisy. Be mindful of this when others are on or in the water, or on the beach.

    Understand your limitations in performance in varying conditions. Be aware that the operators of other vessels may not be familiar with PWCs and how quickly you can approach, pass, turn and move away. You may need to adjust your riding techniques so that you don’t alarm other operators.

    Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and maintenance schedule. Joining a PWC riders club or similar organisation will improve your skills, knowledge and experience.

  • Any person on, or being towed by, a PWC must wear an approved lifejacket type 1, 2 or 3 while underway. On a PWC, you must:

    carry a waterproof, buoyant torch at all times to signal the shore or other vessels if you encounter difficulties

    show the same lights that are required of a powerboat when operating at night. Note that a mast may be required for an all-round white light to ensure the occupant does not obscure the beam.

    Emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) are required if going more than 2 nm offshore in coastal waters. All operators are advised to carry a means of raising the alarm. A personal locator beacon (PLB) should also be considered for those not heading as far out.

  • All vessels must travel at a safe speed at all times. Obey buoys, beacons and signs marking waterway zones, channels and speed limits. Be aware that at 5 knots, equivalent to 9 km/h or fast walking pace, it takes 20 seconds to travel 50 m and 80 seconds to travel 200 m.

    The master of a PWC must constantly monitor the speed of the vessel to ensure that a safe and lawful speed is being maintained. Remember: stunts and manoeuvres must be done well away from other people, other vessels and the shore.

    If you cannot maintain the minimum distance, you must not exceed 5 knots. PWCs are subject to ‘hoon’ legislation which means owners and/or operators can be prosecuted for operating an unsafe vessel, or dangerously, and PWCs can be seized, impounded and embargoed.

    Speed and distance regulations must be observed on all waterways, unless a specific local rule says otherwise.

    Do not exceed 5 knots:

    • within 50 m of a person, vessel, fixed or floating structure and the shore on inland waters within 50 m of a person, vessel, wharf, jetty, slipway, diving platform or boat ramp on coastal and enclosed waters
    • within 100 m of a dive flag
    • within 200 m of the shore on enclosed and coastal waters » or as per the scheduled waterway rules.

    Remember: 5 knots is equivalent to 8-9 km/h.

  • It is illegal in Victoria for a PWC operator or owner to allow or cause a PWC to be used unless it is registered. Conditions of registration require that the PWC is in good working order and engine kill switches are operable, so maintain your PWC after each trip and have it regularly serviced.

    The registration label must be in a prominent position on the outside or upper part of the vessel. If you own a Victorian registered PWC, you must ensure that the identification mark assigned for your PWC is painted or displayed in appropriate characters:

    (a) on each side of the hull of the vessel

    (b) forward of the beam

    (c) so that the highest part of each digit commences at a point no more than 25 mm below the gunwale.

    ‘Appropriate’ means characters that are:

    (a) no less than 100 mm high

    (b) in proportionate breadth, and

    (c) coloured in contrast to the surface on which they are displayed.

    It is illegal for you to act as the master of a registered vessel on Victorian waters unless an identification mark is painted or displayed on your PWC in accordance with the above. These identification marks must be conspicuous and distinguishable from any decal or striping that you may have used to decorate or customise your PWC. Interstate registered vessels must display registration numbers or marks as required by the relevant State or Territory.

Kiteboards

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.

Penalties

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 person must not operate a recreational vessel (including PWCs) or hire and drive vessel at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public, birds and marine animals.

    Victoria Police has the power to seize, impound or immobilise a vessel, if there is reasonable grounds that a recreational vessel is being or has been used in the commission of a relevant offence.

    In addition, Victoria Police and Maritime Safety Victoriahave the power to embargo and prohibit the use and operation of a vessel.

    Hoon behaviour might include:

    • Doing 'doughnuts' near swimmers or other water users
    • Speeding near swimmers or other people close to shore
    • Endangering water skiers by going too close to jump their wake.
    • Behaviour that does not meet the legal threshold of 'dangerous operating', is covered by other provisions in the Marine Safety Act 2010
  • Will be subject to senior police review, providing a safeguard, consistent with the road hoon scheme, to prevent abuse of these serious sanctions.

    Other checks and balances are also provided, including the right to apply to a Magistrates Court on the grounds of hardship.

    For second and subsequent offences, Victoria Police can seek court orders for impoundment for up to three months or forfeiture.

  • The maximum penalty that may be ordered by a court for failing to carry or wear the legally required lifejackets is 20 penalty units. The on-the-spot fine - the penalty that is issued most commonly and can be issued by a Transport Safety Officer or Victoria Police - is two penalty units.

    The current value of a penalty unit can be found on the Department of Justice and Community Safety website. Details of all offences can be found in the Marine Safety Regulations 2012 (Vic).

    The laws also empower Victoria Police to impound, immobilise or seize a vessel or have a vessel forfeited.

    The power to operate or move a trailer or vehicle on which the vessel is resting or by which it is transported

    The option of serving a notice of surrender on the owner or registered person, allowing 10 days to prepare the vessel for safe storage and transport it to the place of storage.

Reviewed 07 July 2021

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