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Buying a new or used boat

What you should know.

Does the boat meet your needs?

Will it carry the number of people you want without overloading it?

Will it operate safely in the waters where you usually fish or plan to fish?

A new boat

(A) Has it an affixed Australian Builders Plate?

If not check with the dealer as it should have a plate attached. The plate indicates the maximum horsepower for the vessel, maximum carrying capacity in passengers or weight and whether the boat is fitted with basic buoyancy or level buoyancy.

(B) Have navigation lights been fitted?

If so are they fitted correctly?

For small craft, the standard navigation lights are starboard and port sidelights and an all round white light. The sidelights must be fitted so they are parallel with the centre line of the boat, not aligned with the curve of the bow. The all round white light must be a metre above the main deck of the boat so that it can be seen from all directions.

(C) If the dealer has fitted registration numbers, is each numeral or letter a minimum of 200 mm high legible from 30m away?

Also are they dark numbers on a light background or light numbers on a dark background displayed along the side of the vessel?

You may be fined if the registration numbers do not meet these requirements.

In the case of a displacement boat (in other words a boat that does not plane at speed), the numbers can be a minimum of 75 mm in height and displayed on the stern of the boat, or both sides of the boat.

(D) Does it have safety equipment supplied?

If so check the safety equipment to ensure you have all the required equipment.

Life jackets are important items – if you have purchased the boat with the cheapest life jackets available consider purchasing some Personal Floatation Devices (PFD's) of a reasonable quality or the inflatable type which can be worn with comfort most of the time.

(E) Is the boat fitted with an under floor fuel tank?

If so has a water trap fuel filter been fitted to the boat somewhere in the vicinity of the transom?

It is recommended that all boats, even if portable tanks are used, have a water trap fuel filter fitted.

A second hand boat

If the boat was built before the Australian Builders Plate was required (2006), then you must have displayed a capacity label by which you have determined how many people the boat can carry safely. Instructions on how to determine a boat’s capacity are located on the rear of the label.

All of the above are relevant to a second hand boat. Because the boat is older and may have been modified by previous owners, be sure to check:

• life jackets meet the current standard

• flares or EPIRB are in date; obtain a “Don’t Expire” sticker and note the expiry dates on space provided

• if tiller steered, a safety lanyard is attached to the cut off switch for the motor

• registration numbers are the correct size and in contrasting colours with the registration label attached.

Registering a boat

All boats fitted with a motor or auxiliary of over 4hp(3KW) and over require registration when on the water in Queensland. Registration forms are available from, and must be lodged with, Department of Transport & Main Roads customer service centres. Fees are calculated according to the boat length. (Exemptions and concessions do apply in some cases).

The registration label must be attached to the exterior of the boat in a conspicuous place above the waterline on the port (left) side.

Your boat will be allocated registration symbols. These must be clearly visible in plain characters in a contrasting colour to the hull of the boat. The size of the characters depends on the type of boat and must be able to be read from a distance of 30 metres.

• Vessels capable of planing must have characters a minimum of 200mm high on both sides.

• Personal watercraft (PWC) registration symbols must be displayed on both sides at least 100mm high, easily seen while the craft is underway.

• Vessels not capable of planing, (e.g. canoes with motors, yachts) must have characters a minimum of 75mm high on both sides or on the stern.

When a registered boat is sold it is the responsibility of the new owner to lodge an application for transfer of the registration within 14 days. Registration may be cancelled if the boat is no longer used in Queensland, is withdrawn from service or no longer meets registration requirements. Interstate visitors must comply with Queensland rules and may be required to register the boat while in Queensland.

Marine driver’s licence

A valid licence is required to operate all recreational boats powered by a motor of more than over 6hp(4.5KW).

Valid licences include:

• recreational marine driver’s licence

• recreational ship master’s licence

• speed boat driver’s licence

• current commercial marine licences – for example coxswain

• current interstate boating licences issued in other states (excludes junior licences)

• PWC licence.

To obtain a Recreational Marine Driver Licence you must:

• be aged 16 years or older

• provide satisfactory proof of identity (a photographic Queensland driver’s licence (current or expired less than two years) is acceptable as evidence)

• undertake an approved BoatSafe Course.

Licences are issued for a lifetime. A paper licence is not issued as details are attached to a person’s details in the Driver’s Licence database. Confirmation reports can be obtained for a fee and your Queensland Drivers Licence with your marine licence endorsement should be carried when boating interstate. Unlicensed drivers may drive a boat (where a licence is needed) provided a licensed driver is on board and is able to take immediate control (direct supervision).

Unlicensed drivers are NOT allowed to tow a person (such as a water skier).

Interstate visitors must comply with Queensland’s licensing regulations. Queensland recognises other states’ licences. If your home state does not have any licensing requirements, you should obtain a Recreational Marine Driver’s Licence before boating in Queensland.

BoatSafe – How to obtain a licence

BoatSafe is a competency-based, uniform licence training and assessment scheme for recreational boat licences aimed to improve boating safety in Queensland.

Under BoatSafe, a candidate for a Recreational Marine Driver Licence must satisfactorily complete either an approved BoatSafe competency-based training and assessment program or a Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) with an approved BoatSafe training provider.

An online home study course is able to be undertaken to replace the theory component of your licence course.  Attendance to an approved boatsafe trainer is still mandatory but only to complete your Maritime Safety validation written assessment and your on water training and assessment. 

This means that people applying for a licence must meet the minimum satisfactory level of skills and knowledge before they are successful in obtaining a licence.

Australian Builders Plate

To enhance the safety of new recreational boats, the Australian Builders Plate is required for new and imported recreational boats built from 1 July 2006. It provides essential safety information on the uses and limitations of most new and imported recreational boats. It will assist people in the purchase and responsible use of a boat and enhance safety by providing information on the maximum number of people and load of a boat, as well as buoyancy performance and engine weight and rating. An Australian Builders Plate confirming compliance with the level of flotation (basic or level) requirements will be permanently fixed and readily visible to the boat’s operator.


The Australian Builders Plate is not a statement of positive flotation. This must be obtained from a manufacturer or accredited surveyor.

Owners who are upsizing motors on recreational boats and/or altering the performance by design may not be meeting their safety obligation if the engine power is greater than what the manufacturers recommendation on the compliance plate.

Capacity labels

Please note: If the vessel has an Australian builders Plate fitted where it can be seen clearly from the steering position, a capacity label is not required.

Overloading your boat is one of the easiest ways to capsize it. By allowing more people on board a boat than its maximum capacity, the risk of capsizing significantly increases. Overloading compromises the safety of everyone on board. Capacity labels have been designed to show operators how many people they can have safely on board. All registrable boats including Personal Watercraft (PWCs), except yachts with auxiliary motors, are required to have capacity label(s).

Placing a maximum capacity label adjacent to a boat’s control areas means operators are constantly reminded of their boat’s recommended loading capacity. Capacity labels must be fitted where they can be seen clearly from each steering position. 

There are three different capacity labels available:

• Powered boats under six metres.

• Powered boats six metres and over.

• Powered boats with a flybridge.


The label indicates the number of people the boat can safely carry in good conditions (fair weather conditions in smooth waters). The onus of safety rests with the operator at all times. When using the boat in exposed waters or in rough conditions, the operator should consider reducing the number of persons taken on the trip.

Labels are available from Department of Transport & Main Roads customer service centres or can be ordered from your local Maritime Safety Queensland office or website.

Penalties apply.

Know how to safely load your boat by:

• Storing heavy items low and central in a place where they cannot move around.

• Distributing the weight, including passengers, evenly around the boat.

• Prior to operation check there is no water in the bilges.

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General Safety Obligation

It is the responsibility of every boat owner and skipper to operate the boat under their control in a safe manner. Our General Safety Obligation as a vessel master or operator includes:

• the boat is safe or seaworthy prior to operation (Pre start checks are carried out, engine maintenance has been kept up to date, etc.)

• the boat is properly equipped for the trip and area it is going to be operated in (eg. safety equipment required is onboard, other recommended equipment is also carried as well as common sense items such as a first aid kit, tools, spare parts, etc.)

• the boat is properly crewed (eg. having a waterski observer when towing, making sure your crew and passengers know what to do in an emergency, the skipper is competent in operating the boat, etc.)

• the boat is operated in a safe manner (eg. rules are followed so that other boaters are not injured by unsafe practices)

There are a range of rules that you must know as a boat owner or operator. Collisions make up the majority of reported boating accidents. Most of these could have been avoided through skippers being alert and aware. Driving a boat is very different to driving a car. Being alert to what is happening around you is paramount for safety. Do not become complacent because of the perception of open water. Often narrow channels restrict boats to pass close to one another, and between beacons and shallow banks. There is plenty to hit when driving a boat.

Driver safety

Most boats have a fixed throttle system. This means the driver can set the throttle for a specific speed and the engine will maintain revolutions until the throttle is altered unlike a motor vehicle which has a spring operated foot accelerator. With a fixed throttle system, if the driver leaves or is thrown from the driving position, the vessel will maintain speed until the throttle is altered to reduce speed. It is strongly recommended that the drivers of all boats, but especially tiller steered boats, have a throttle lanyard attached to their wrist which will stop the motor instantly if the driver loses control of the boat.

There have been fatalities when the driver has been dislodged and fallen overboard in rough conditions or in the event of hitting an object or vessel wash. This may cause the boat to continue its course or turn in circles. This is an extremely dangerous situation for other boats in the area and the person in the water.

Ensure you wear a throttle lanyard connected to the stop motor switch at all times when under way.

Collision rules

The ‘International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea’ (Colregs) are the traffic laws of the sea. They give clear indication about passing, approaching, giving way and overtaking to avoid collisions with other boats. They apply equally to all boats afloat. All boat operators must thoroughly understand and apply the rules in all situations.

Collisions are the most common accident reported in boats. Boat operators must do whatever is necessary to avoid a collision. Actions must be clear and deliberate so other skippers can see your intentions. Never assume the operator of another boat will observe the rules; always be prepared to take evasive action to avoid a collision.

Significant penalties apply for failure to observe these rules.

Keep a good lookout

A good lookout must be kept at all times, sight and hearing and all available means appropriate to the prevailing circumstances and conditions. Be aware of other boats, especially in bad weather, restricted visibility and in darkness.

Assess risk of collision and take action

Use all means available to assess whether other boats pose a risk of collision. One early indicator is to see whether the bearing of a closing boat is virtually steady (bearing unchanged, range closing). If it is, a risk of collision exists and early positive action (changing course and/or speed) must be taken to eliminate the risk.

A risk may even exist if there is an appreciable bearing change if the approaching boat is a large (ship) or a boat with a tow at close range.  But always remember if there is any doubt as to if a risk of collision exists always assume it does exist and take appropriate evasive action.


All boats must travel at a SAFE SPEED at which you can act to avoid any danger and can stop the boat in time to avoid a collision. Wash created by speed must not cause any damage to the shoreline.

When navigating a boat you must consider:

Visibility at the time: Drive slowly in rain, fog, mist, smoke and glare. Take special care when travelling at night as potential hazards are harder to see.

Traffic density: Slow down in busy areas and when near moored or anchored boats, and remember working boats and larger ships may have difficulty manoeuvring.

Navigation hazards: Slow down in shallow areas and when boating in unfamiliar water. Water depth can vary and change quickly, particularly in freshwater.

Wind, waves and currents: These may affect the boat’s stopping and turning ability. The type of motor, hull and design will all impact on the boat’s manoeuvrability.

Giving way

Power boats Golden rule: ‘look all around, give way to the right, turn to the right and stay to the right’.


When navigating in narrow channels, all boats should travel on the starboard side or right hand side of the channel and pass oncoming boats on the port side. If plenty of distance separates two passing boats, there’s no need to deliberately alter course to pass to the right of the other boat. The rule is simply there to remove doubt in the event of a close situation. Avoid anchoring in channels, especially near markers. Small boats (including sailing boats) should keep clear of large boats that have limited room to manoeuvre in channels.

Head on

When meeting head on, both boats are required to alter course to starboard (right), never to port (left). Any turn should be large enough to be obvious to the other boat.


If you are overtaking a boat, you can do so to either side of the boat you wish to pass. However, you must keep well clear of the boat you are overtaking. This applies to both sail and powerboats. In narrow channels you must be particularly careful when overtaking. In all instances, make sure you do not cut in front of the boat you have overtaken.


When two boats are crossing, the boat on your right has right of way; you should keep clear, alter course or slow down to pass astern of the other boat.

If you have the right of way, be predictable – keep your course and speed. If the other boat does not give way, the boat with the right of way must take action to avoid a collision.

Sailing boats

Wind on different side.

When each sailing boat has the wind on a different side, the boat with wind on the port side shall keep out of the way of the other. If sailing a boat with the wind on the port side and you see a sailing boat to windward and cannot determine with certainty whether the boat has the wind on the port or starboard side, take action to keep clear.

Wind on the same side

When both sailing boats have the wind on the same side, the boat to windward shall keep out of the way of the boat to leeward. NOTE: The windward side is the side opposite to that on which the mainsail is carried or, in the case of a square-rigged boat, the side opposite to that on which the largest fore and aft sail is carried.

Power and sail

A power boat generally gives way to sail unless the sailing boat is in the process of overtaking it. However, don’t expect large, less manoeuvrable boats under power to give way. All small craft should give large boats a wide berth.

Sound signals

Most recreational boats do not use sound signals. However, they are used by ships and larger vessels. Boats over 12 metres should carry sound signals, a whistle and a bell. Vessels under 12 metres should have some means of making an efficient sound signal. You should be aware of signals and what action you should take when you hear a signal. Sound signals may be accompanied by light signals.

All boats should use sound signals in restricted visibility to alert others of their position. Use common sense and slow your boat or stop, and be ready to take immediate action. Be extremely cautious when operating in restricted visibility.

One short blast means ‘I am altering my course to starboard’.

Two short blasts mean ‘I am altering my course to port’.

Three short blasts mean ‘I am operating engines astern’ (the boat may be reversing or stopping).

Five (or more) short blasts mean ‘I am unsure of your intentions

Navigation lights

Are your navigation lights fitted correctly?

Some boats carry navigation lights that are fitted incorrectly. It is important that lights are fitted according to the Collision Rules so that other boats can determine what type of boat you are and the course you are on. A common mistake is the fitting of the red and green sidelights on the same angle of the curve of the bow of the boat. This results in the angles of light crossing over each other when seen from head on. This also affects the side view. Side lights must be kept parallel to the centreline of the boat.

• By law, boats operating from sunset to sunrise, whether at anchor or under way, must display the correct lighting. A boat is ‘under way’ when it is not at anchor, made fast to shore or aground (this includes drifting).

• Navigation lights must also be used in daylight hours during periods of restricted visibility or in other circumstances when it is deemed necessary.

• Lights must be placed and displayed appropriate to the size and class of your boat. These lights tell other boat operators about the boat and what it is doing – whether it is at anchor, under sail or motoring.

• Navigation lights must be positioned so they are not obscured by the boat’s superstructure or interfered with by the deck lights. They should be fitted by the manufacturer or an authorised person.

• The masthead and/or all-round white light must be fitted (if practical) on the centre line (bow to stern) of the boat. When operating at night, carry replacement bulbs.

Minimum required lights - Boats under way

Power boats

• Less than 7 metres in length with a maximum speed not exceeding 7 knots – a white light visible all round and, if possible, separate or combined sidelights.

• Less than 12 metres in length:

– separate or combined sidelights, a masthead light and a stern light or

– separate or combined sidelights, an all-round white.


Sailing boats

• Less than 7 metres in length – the lights required for sailing boats over 7 metres in length. If not, a torch or lantern showing a white light ready to display to avoid a collision.

• More than 7 metres in length and less than 20 metres in length:

a) combined lantern at or near the top of the mast that incorporates sidelights and stern light or

b) separate sidelights and stern light.

Non-powered boats

On the Brisbane River, rowing sculls are required to display a flashing all-round white light while training or in competition, between sunset and sunrise.

Boats at anchor

Boats at anchor must show an all-round white light placed where it may best be seen. Anchor lights must always be shown from sunset to sunrise. If you are at anchor or in a busy area, then show additional lights (not navigation lights) to ensure you are seen, and keep a good watch. The collision regulations require an anchor light be visible for 2 nautical miles for all vessels up to 50 metres long.

Lights on boats to keep clear of

There are many other combinations of lights used on boats. The lights shown relate to the activity it is engaged in.  Some include:


Trawler trawling for prawns (Green over White, trawling at night)


Day Shapes for a vessel Restricted in it's Ability to Manoeuvre due to the nature of it's work.  Pass on the side were the diamonds are by day or the side where the green vertical lights are by night.  


                       Day Shapes                                      Night lights

Vessel Not Under Command (eg. disabled in some manner, lost an engine, lost steering and returning on emergency steering, etc.)

A simple rule of thumb for a small powerboat is to stay clear of any boats exhibiting additional lights

Navigation at night

The waterways are not like well-defined roads. It is unsafe to navigate a boat with lights illuminating the water directly ahead because it will deprive you and other boat operators of night vision. Spotlights can be used to identify specific hazards, but this should be done only when operating at very slow speed and without affecting other waterway users.

The most important rules to remember when driving a boat at night are to slow down and keep a good lookout. The speed of travel should be much less than that travelled by day.


• Not all navigation hazards have lights indicating their position (examples are boats on buoy moorings in recognised mooring areas, shallow banks, oyster leases, and many navigation markers).

• It is difficult to judge distances at night.

• Background lighting on the shore can cause confusion.

• All boats (except certain moored boats in approved mooring areas) are required to show some form of lighting.

• A safe speed is a speed at which sufficient action can be taken in time to prevent a collision.

• Keep an extra good lookout.

Boats with limited manoeuvrability

Many work boats operate in Queensland waterways. The nature of the activities undertaken by these craft means that they are often stationary and not always noticed by passing vessel traffic.

The effects of wash on a stationary workboat can pose a considerable risk, as crew are often moving between the vessel and a fixed structure, for example, a marine aid to navigation. To protect vessels and their crew, internationally recognised marine signals are displayed. When a vessel displaying any of these signals is sighted, other traffic should stay clear and preferably slow down, to minimise wash.

A vessel displaying the combination of flags shown, either separately or in conjunction with one of the above signals, is requesting that passing boats slow down.

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IALA buoyage system

A system of buoys, spars and lights, known as IALA Buoyage System ‘A’ is used to assist safe navigation. These are the equivalent of road signs on highways. Study a chart, as well as the buoys themselves, to familiarise yourself with their meanings. Each type of mark has a unique combination of colour, shape, topmark and light. You must be able to recognise these and pass them safely on the correct side.

Lateral marks

Port and starboard marks are referred to as lateral marks. They indicate the port-hand and starboard hand sides of navigable waters (channels).

When both a port and starboard mark are placed near to each other, travel directly between them. Often lateral marks are not placed in pairs where the safe side to pass is generally determined by the direction of travel to or from the sea, or a predetermined local direction of buoyage.

When going upstream (heading away from the sea)

Keep red (port-hand marks) on the left-hand side (to port)



Keep green (starboard-hand marks) on the right-hand side (to starboard)



When going downstream (towards the sea)

Keep red (port-hand marks) on your right-hand side (to starboard)

Keep green (starboard-hand marks) on your left-hand side (to port)

Local direction of buoyage

Where there is doubt, the direction of buoyage is indicated on charts by the symbol:

An easy way to remember direction of buoyage and where the port and starboard lateral beacons should be kept is, "Port to port when heading into port and arse about when heading out"

Cardinal Marks

A cardinal mark indicates where the deepest and safest water can be found. That is, where the mariner has safe passage. It may also indicate the safe side on which to pass a danger and to draw attention to  a feature in the channel such as a bend or junction.



Safe water to the North of the cardinal topmarks point ‘up’ toward the NORTH for safest water. At night the frequency of the flashes are an uninterrupted quick flash.


Safe water to the South of the cardinal topmarks both point ‘down’ towards the SOUTH for safe water. The frequency of flashes is 6 quick flashes in a group followed by a long flash.


Safe water to the East of the cardinal The topmarks are in the shape of an egg, so remember the e of egg is for safe water to the EAST. The frequency of the flashes is 3 quick flashes in a group.


Safe water to the West of the cardinal The topmarks make the shape of a wine glass so remember the w of wine glass is for safe water to the WEST. The frequency of the flashes is 9 quick flashes in a group.


Special Mark

Special marks can be used to mark a specific structure or feature such as a cable or pipeline, or to indicate that a channel divides. The direction to navigate around a special mark is often obvious by using a chart. At night the light is yellow and the rhythm may be any other than those used for the white lights of a cardinal, isolated danger and safe water marks. Variations in the design of buoys will exist in many areas. Illustrations indicate the approved shapes, colouring and top marks.

Safe Water Marks

Indicates that there is navigable water all around the mark – for example, mid channel. At night a white light shows a single long flash every 10 seconds. To remember this, associate a single sphere with a single flash.

Isolated Danger Marks

Indicates there is an isolated danger with navigable water all around it – for example, an isolated shoal, rock or wreck. At night a white flashing light shows groups of two flashes. The best way to remember this is to associate two flashes with two spheres as the topmarks.


Shipping channels

Interaction between ships and small craft

A combination of increased shipping movements and record numbers of recreational boats throughout Queensland is creating more congestion in and adjacent to shipping channels, raising the potential for interaction between ships and smaller vessels.

Recreational boats and commercial vessels operating and fishing in shipping channels place themselves in a high risk situation, particularly those who do not have or use a VHF radio to communicate with large ships and monitor local shipping movements.

Large ships often travel at speeds in excess of 20 knots and fully laden cargo ships or tankers can have a stopping distance equal to 28 football fields (2.5 nautical miles). When travelling in narrower channels, such as entering a port, a ship can have as little as 600mm under-keel clearance, and can neither turn nor slow-down.

A small boat within several hundred metres of a ship can be unseen from the helm of a ship, with the bow of the ship and sometimes cargo such as containers obscuring the view. This ‘blind spot’ can sometimes extend for several nautical miles, and smaller boats rarely appear on ship radar.

It only takes about 15 minutes from the time a ship is spotted on the horizon by a small boat to the potential time of impact. In the event of engine failure on a small boat this interval can prove fatally short.

What precautions should recreational boaties take to increase safety?

• Whenever travelling across or alongside a shipping channel keep a constant lookout. From water level, large ships travel quietly.

• When near a shipping channel monitor the appropriate VHF channel for the area (for example Channel 12 in Moreton Bay). Relying on a mobile phone for communications can be disastrous – the ship’s captain or pilot won’t know your number, and you don’t know theirs!

• Cross a shipping channel at 90 degrees behind a ship, and never cross in front – small boats breaking down or running out of fuel has occurred with disastrous results.

• Avoid travelling within and along a designated shipping channel.

• Despite the fact that they attract fish, avoid anchoring near or fishing in the channels next to a navigation aid (buoy or channel marker) which marks a designated shipping lane. It is a common occurrence for small craft to drift unaware into the shipping channel while a ship is approaching

Navigating with a Global Positioning System (GPS)

Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are commonly found on recreational boats, and while a good navigation aid, they should not be relied upon (like any other electronic equipment dependent on battery power). A GPS is able to provide a latitude and longitude, updated almost continuously. This can then be plotted on a chart and should be verified with a compass.

There have been a number of navigational incidents, where boats have run aground and into obstructions, attributed to people using GPS data alone. Some positions given by GPS will need to be adjusted due to differing datum (see cautionary advice on charts). As with all fixes, the GPS position should be checked against something else.

A GPS is not a substitute for sound watchkeeping and navigational practices and should be used only in conjunction with other aids to navigation.

Consider the following when using GPS and/or chart plotters:

• Masters should still maintain a proper lookout while the vessel is underway to identify any approaching hazards.

• Zoom to the largest available accurate chart scale. If the zoom recommended exceeds the accuracy scale limit then a warning message is displayed on the screen.

• It is advisable to switch the unit on and select the correct chart datum before departing. GPS units require time to initialise, and the master needs time to assess the accuracy of the position information prior to starting the voyage.

• The accuracy of GPS units can be compromised by power failures or poor electrical connections.

• Always ensure your electrical charts are updated with supplier upgrades.

• When going to a waypoint in a straight line, check what is in between your boat's initial location and the waypoint.

• Be aware of areas under construction or development as hazards may change regularly.

A good way of maintaining safety information is through Notices to Mariners, which can be found on the Maritime Safety Queensland website.

Before using your new GPS, you are obligated to familiarise yourself with the strengths and weaknesses of the equipment. As a starting point, it is recommended that that GPS users undertake navigation and GPS courses currently offered by both Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) and the Australian Coast Guard.

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Water sports

Queensland’s waterways are shared by all types of boats used for water sports. Non-motorised craft such as sail boats, windsurfers, canoes, kayaks, surfskis and kitesurfs are classified as boats and must follow marine safety rules and regulations.

Water skiing

Water skiing involves towing people behind a boat on skis, bare feet, inflatable toys, boards and parasailing. All kinds of boats are used for water skiing, mainly dinghies, skiboats and Personal Watercraft (PWC). If using a PWC to tow a skier you must obey PWC rules. However, you may be exempt from certain PWC distance rules when skiing, i.e. 60 m from shore 6 knot rule. Go to Maritime Safety Queensland’s website for more information.

The owner/driver of the boat is responsible for the safety of others and has a general safety obligation to:

• make sure the boat is safe and is capable of towing skiers

• take all the right safety equipment for the skiers and passengers

• operate the boat as safely as possible and check the area is safe for skiing by noting the depth of water, width to make turns safely and any hazards.

Personal flotation devices for skiers

When water skiing, the skier must wear a PFD at all times:

• PFD type 2 (level 50), 3 (level 50S) or a wetsuit with inbuilt flotation approved as a PFD type 3 (level 50S) in smooth water limits.

• PFD type 2 (level 50) only in partially smooth and open water limits.

It is compulsory for all children under 12 years, in boats under 4.8 metres whilst underway, to wear an appropriately fitted life jacket at all times.

Water ski areas

Water skiing is prohibited:

• in certain areas usually designated by signs

• in all six knot zones including harbours and marinas

• within 30 metres when operating a boat of people in the water , anchored boats, diver’s flags, jetties, pontoons or boat ramps

• within 60 metres of people in the water if operating a PWC.

Water skiing is permitted in all other areas. However, it is the responsibility of the driver to ensure the area is safe and suitable for skiing. The Gold and Sunshine Coasts have some designated water ski areas and times for operation. These are clearly marked by signs.

Restricted areas are outlined in the Waterways section of the Maritime Safety Queensland website at


A person must not operate a boat (including a PWC) towing a skier unless the skier is wearing a PFD type 2 or 3 and there is another person (an observer) on board. The observer must be older than 12 years and competent to watch the skier at all times.

They must immediately tell the operator if:

• there is a danger, or potential danger, to the skier

• the skier signals the observer

• the skier has a fall or mishap.

Recognised water ski signals

The following signals are suggestions only. The observer and skiers should agree to the signals beforehand.

Start: Nod the head.

Faster: Open palm facing up – motion upwards or nod head if both hands in use.

Slower: Open palm facing down – motion downwards or shake head if both hands are in use.


Speed required: Use the number of fingers for km required. For example, 23 – first two fingers then three fingers.

Speed OK: Arm upraised with thumb and forefinger making an ‘O’ – OK signal.

Turns: Palm vertical, curving motion of hand in direction required.

Whip off: Point to direction and then give quick circular motions with hand.9

Back to dock: Point with downward swing of the arm.

Cut motor: Finger drawn across throat in cutting motion.

OK after fall: Skier should clasp hands over head if unhurt, until seen by the boat driver.

Direction of travel

When skiing in lakes, rivers and creeks, boats should travel in an anticlockwise pattern (see right). In a few locations local customs and conditions may dictate the direction of travel. Always check before skiing.


Skiing or towing on a personal water craft

When towing a skier on a jet ski you must obey personal watercraft rules. The operator of the PWC must ensure there is an observer on board, and that there is sufficient seating capacity for both the operator and the observer.


Divers’ flags


Divers can surface at any time, sometimes a significant distance from where they enter the water. In the interest of diver safety, any boat is now excluded from operating within 30 metres of a diver in the water if a Code A flag is displayed.  It is legal for the boat tending the diver to operate within the 30 metres. Breach of this regulation can incur a penalty.


Drink right — drink light

If the skipper is found operating with a blood alcohol limit of .05 or over, penalties will apply, including licence cancellation and a fine. The skipper is also responsible for the safety of passengers and should be responsible for their alcohol consumption. Remember that the effects of alcohol are exasperated while on the water due to the sun, wind, and constant motion. Reflexes and response times to emergencies are slowed and swimming ability deteriorates considerably.

When on the water, your coordination, judgement, vision, balance and reaction time can decline up to three times faster when using alcohol. Waves, motion, vibration, engine noise, weather, wind and spray – can multiply the effects of alcohol.

People aboard need to take care because studies have shown that boat passengers are just as likely as operators to be involved in incidents such as capsizing the vessel or falling overboard as a result of drinking alcohol. In Australia and New Zealand, alcohol has been a factor in one third of all boating fatalities.

Don’t multiply the risks – go easy on the drink

Insurance for vessels over 15 m

It is compulsory for all vessels over 15 metres to have insurance sufficient to pay for potential pollution clean up, salvage and wreck removal. The insurance policy must meet the following requirements:

• All recreational ships more than 15 metres but less than 35 metres in length must have an insurance policy that provides A$250,000 for pollution clean up and A$10,000,000 for salvage and wreck removal.

• All commercial ships more than 15 metres but less than 35 metres in length must have an insurance policy that provides A$500,000 for pollution clean up costs and A$10,000,000 for salvage and wreck removal.

This requirement was introduced on 17 May 2007 with a change to section 67A of the Transport

Operations (Marine Pollution) Act 1995. Vessel owners were given 12 months to obtain the necessary insurance before the requirement became compulsory on 17 May 2008.

Ships visiting Queensland coastal waters are also required to comply with the legislation. It is recommended that these ships check their existing insurance coverage to determine whether it complies with the requirement. If it does not comply, these ships will be required to organise temporary insurance cover. A current certificate of insurance must be carried onboard and be available for inspection by compliance officers. Penalties apply for noncompliance.

For vessels over 35 metres there has been no change. These vessels are required to hold appropriate insurance under the Transport Operations (Marine Pollution) Act 1995.

How do I report a marine incident?

A marine incident must be reported to a Shipping Inspector within 48 hours of the incident, unless there is a reasonable excuse. Shipping Inspectors are marine safety officers (located at Maritime Safety Queensland marine operations bases), and officers of Queensland Water Police and Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol. If you are unable to access one of these offices, contact a Shipping Inspector by phone. They will advise you what to do next.

The report must be made on the approved form. This form is used to report all incidents, no matter what type of ship is involved. The forms are available from Department of Transport & Main Roads customer service centres, Maritime Safety Queensland’s web site , regional offices, Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol and Water Police offices.

Details about every incident are recorded and the information is used to inform future safety programs. All marine incident report forms are examined by a shipping inspector. In most cases, no further action is required, however, serious incidents will require a more thorough investigation. Penalties may apply for failing to report a marine incident

Why report marine incidents?

The reporting of marine incidents is vital to Maritime Safety Queensland. The information gathered assists in the development of infrastructure and education programs and on water compliance programs which benefit all waterways users. In addition, reporting a marine incident may assist you if you decide to make insurance claims for any damages.

Speed limits

Complying with speed limits is safe boating for yourself and shows courtesy to others. All boats must travel at a safe speed where the driver can act to avoid a collision and can stop the boat in time to avoid any danger that arises suddenly. There have been many casualties resulting from boats travelling at excessive speed, especially in narrow waterways.

Speeding causes major problems on Queensland waterways such as unsafe conditions, inconvenience to others, damage to infrastructure and erosion. That’s why “distance off” and “no wash” rules exist. All boat owners need to be aware of these rules and more importantly, take notice of them.

Six (6) knots is the maximum speed limit and is equivalent to approx 11 kilometres per hour. There are many times when the skipper should reduce the boat’s speed even further to be safe.

An example of this is when the vessel is creating excessive wash. Some boats create excessive wash at six knots. It is the responsibility of the driver to slow the vessel so that any wash created is minimal.

Distance off


When operating a boat six knots within 30 metres of:

• boats anchored, moored to the shore or aground

• jetty, wharf, pontoon or boat ramp

• people in the water

• boat harbours and marinas

Six knots (approx 11km/hr) is equivalent to a brisk walking pace.

    Speed restrictions are usually indicated by signs. However, the rules apply whether the signs are there or not. Learn how to measure distance. For example, 30m is ten times longer than a three metre boat and five times longer than a six metre boat.

Refer to Maritime Safety Queensland’s website  to keep up to date with speed limits.

Queensland Water Police and Queensland Boating and Fisheries Patrol target speed and excessive wash to ensure compliance. Offences carry heavy on-the-spot penalties.


Many speed limits are in place to minimise the wash created by boats. Therefore it is essential as a boat owner or skipper to maintain a speed that creates minimal wash. Wash can create serious safety hazards for other boats, especially in marinas and anchorages where there is an expectation of calm conditions.

Wash can also create damage to:

• pontoons

• jetties

• vessels moored to these structures

• vessels in shallow water or anchored on a foreshore

• shorelines and river banks.


Create a minimum of wash and show consideration to other boaters. A six knot speed limit applies to all canals in Queensland.

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Trip preparation


Boat care and maintenance

As part of the General Safety Obligation it is the owner/operator’s responsibility to ensure the boat is in a seaworthy condition and suitable for the trip.

Motor Care

Regular preventative maintenance and servicing by a qualified mechanic may avoid a breakdown at sea. Some of the causes for engine failure are minor, so you should be able to troubleshoot a problem. Learn how to change the filter and primer bowl; clean and change spark plugs; check for spark; check and replace fuses; and change the propeller. You should also carry spares on board whenever you go out.

Fuel System

• Check for fuel fumes BEFORE starting engine/s.

• Once a year the fuel tank should be cleaned with suitable cleaning solvent.

• Inspect the fuel tank for any cracks or corrosion.

• Always replace old fuel with new fuel after periods of inactivity.

Inspect fuel lines, manual priming bulb and connections for cracks and leaks.

• Clean out or replace the fuel filter.


• Top up battery cells with distilled water and check each cell with a hydrometer.

• Ensure proper ventilation.

• If voltage is low, charge the battery at a rate that is suitable to the battery. The battery should never be overcharged.

• Batteries should always be secured in brackets.

• Terminals should be kept clean and greased regularly. Furthermore, conduct a general check of the boat before each trip.

Boat care

• Inspect the boat for corrosion, cracks and general wear and tear.

• Test steering gear for stiffness.

Self draining holes must be kept clear – check drain flaps and lubricate if necessary.

• If LPG is fitted, ensure the system is regularly serviced.

• Ensure bilges are clean and dry.

• Check for water and fuel leaks.

• Inspect anchor, shackles and ropes for any sign of wear and replace if necessary.

• Inspect safety equipment for any deterioration or damage (including expiry dates).

Tell someone where you are going

Log your trip with your local Volunteer Rescue/Coast Guard station. You will be asked to advise the vessel name, registration details, number of persons on board (POB), your destination, and your estimated time of return. Other useful information you could provide includes a description of your vessel and radio channels you intend to monitor.

You should also advise a family member or friend of your intended trip with an indication of when to advise authorities if you are not back. Failure to advise these details has contributed to a number of deaths in Queensland in recent years.

Marine Radio Licences and Certificates

Under federal regulations, operators of VHF and MF/HF radios are required to hold an operating certificate; the normal certificate for recreational operators is the Marine Radio Operators Certificate of Proficiency (MROCP). Many Coast Guard and VMR stations provide this course or may advise where a local course is available. Operators of 27 MHz equipment are not required to hold a certificate but are strongly encouraged to obtain one for their own and other users’ safety. Station (equipment) licences are no longer required for 27 MHz or VHF radios but are still necessary for MF/HF long-range radio equipment.


Weather – Make the safe call

Queensland’s weather systems are changeable and unpredictable. Good weather is critical for a safe and comfortable trip. Forecasts should be obtained when planning a trip, before you leave and updated while you are out on the water. Maritime Safety Queensland’s Weather Service provides weather information from the Bureau of Meteorology at the cost of a local phone call.

All of Queensland 1300 360 426

Marine Warnings 1300 360 427

South-East Queensland 1300 360 428

Information on current wind, cyclone and tsunami warnings can also be found on the Bureau of Meteorology website at

Is the boat safe?

• Remember your General Safety Obligation – as master you are responsible for the safety of the boat and the people on board.

• Regular boat maintenance and motor servicing are essential.

• DON’T overpower the boat; check the builder’s plate for maximum horsepower.

• KNOW your boat’s limits; stay within these limits.

• KNOW how to load and distribute the weight in your boat for maximum stability. Have the heaviest items placed centrally in a low position in the boat. Distribute passengers evenly around the boat.

Safety equipment

Safety equipment for registered and non-registered boats under the General Safety Obligation (GSO)

The GSO requires all boat owners and operators to make sure the boat is safe, appropriately equipped and crewed and operated in a safe manner.

Boats requiring registration must carry the regulated safety equipment.  Additional safety equipment recommended in the Standard should also be carried to satisfy the General Safety Obligation. This allows boat owners and operators to choose the equipment best suited for the type of boat and intended voyage.

Boats not requiring registration do not have to carry the regulated safety equipment, but need to satisfy their General Safety Obligation. When deciding what to take on board, remember your obligation – if you fail to carry a piece of equipment that could have helped to prevent an accident, you could be prosecuted.

Safety equipment must be carried in a place onboard your boat where is is readily accessible.  If your safety equipment is not visible the stowage location must be labelled so as your passengers can easily see where the equipment is stowed from the signage (eg. " Life Jackets" sticker on seat box where lifejackets are stowed).


Compulsory wearing of PFD

Under 12, under 4.8, underway Children under the age of 12 in open boats under 4.8 metres must now wear properly fitted life jackets while underway. A boat is underway when it is not at anchor, made fast to the shore or aground (underway includes drifting). This applies to commercial, fishing and recreational boats.

In circumstances of heightened risk the chances of survival are greater in the event of an incident if a life jacket is being worn. The changes are expected to improve marine safety and lessen boating fatalities.

Who does it apply to?

The regulation will only apply to those boats that are already required to carry life jackets as part of their safety equipment. Experience has shown that even if there are life jackets nearby, there is often not enough time to put them on when faced with a life threatening situation. Emergency or high risk situations can happen very quickly on the water, even if conditions look calm. Once in the water it is extremely difficult and in some instances impossible to put your life jacket on. So while most people know that life jackets save lives “It is not a life saver if you’re not wearing it”.

Personal flotation devices (PFDs)/life jackets



PFD type 1 (Level 100)

For boat use in smooth, partially smooth and open waters. Must comply with Australian Standard 1512 or AS 4758. Provides sufficient flotation to support the body and head and has reflective tape for visibility. The flotation collar keeps your head above water.

PFD type 2 (Level 50)

For boat use in smooth or partially smooth waters only. Must comply with Australian Standard 1499 or AS 4758. Will keep you afloat but does not have a collar to keep your head above water.


PFD type 3 (Level 50 S)

For boat use in smooth waters only where the user is likely to be in the water only for a short time. Must comply with Australian Standard 2260 or AS 4758. (For example, while skiing). Has the same buoyancy as PFD type 2 although colours are not as visible.


Inflatable PFDs (Level 150)

Inflatable life jackets are now approved equipment and have reduced in price making them affordable and a good alternative to the standard PFD type 1. The advantage of an inflatable life jacket is that it can be worn while on board with a degree of comfort and minimal restrictions, encouraging all on board to wear a jacket as a safety precaution.

An inflatable life jacket would be a good alternative for children under 12 who must wear a life jacket when on boats under 4.8 metres in length, especially in summer. Inflatable jackets must be gas inflated and not rely on oral inflation only. Inflatable PFDs must also show a legible expiry date and be serviced by the manufacturer or authorised service centre annually.

Coastal and SOLAS life jackets (Level 100 or Level 150)

These jackets have more flotation than PFD type 1 and are recommended to be carried by boats operating long distances offshore. Regulation sets Coastal and SOLAS specifications as the minimum requirements for life jackets on commercial vessels. They are bulky life jackets designed to keep the body afloat for a long period. They have reflective tape and a whistle to attract attention. There are additional acceptable standards for coastal life jackets. Contact Maritime Safety Queensland for details.

Inflatable personal flotation devices and life jackets that rely solely on oral inflation for buoyancy are not acceptable. Inflatable PFDs must show a legible expiry date and be serviced by the manufacturer or manufacturer’s agent, or be replaced before the expiry date.

PFDs – Are yours up to standard?

All Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs, or life jackets) must comply with Australian Standard AS 1512 for PFD 1, AS 1499 for PFD 2, AS 2260 for PFD 3 or AS 4758.

To meet the requirements, all PFDs must have the following markings:

• Manufacturer’s name, trade name or trademark.

• The words “PFD TYPE 1 or Level 100” , “PFD TYPE 2 or Level 50” and “PFD TYPE 3 or Level 50 S” in block letters not less than 6 mm high, with the words below: “CAUTION: May not be suitable for all conditions” (or for a child’s PFD, the words “CHILD’S PFD TYPE 1 or Level 100” and a caution advising that a child wearing the PFD should be under competent supervision).

• Manufacturer’s model identification, batch identification and year of manufacture.

• Intended body mass range.

• Illustrated instructions for donning the PFD.

• Instructions for storage and care.

• Information related to replacement or checking of gas cylinders of inflatable PFDs.



All boats, regardless of whether they are registrable, operating beyond smooth and partially smooth waters must carry an Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) if more than 2 nautical miles from land. EPIRBs should be used only as a last resort if the boat or crew are in grave danger. Use other communications or signalling equipment first, such as marine radio, flares, V-sheet or a mobile phone.

Search and rescue authorities respond to all activations, therefore it is important to let them know immediately if assistance is no longer required. There is no penalty for accidentally activating an EPIRB but remember to either radio the local volunteer marine radio organisation or call Rescue Coordination Centre’s 24-hour emergency number on 1800 641 792. To avoid accidental activations store EPIRBs in an accessible place away from gear and passengers.

EPIRBs have expiry dates, and if past or near this date, the unit must be serviced and then replaced by the manufacturer or an authorised agent.

If the unit is unserviceable:

• return it directly to the manufacturer

• it must be serviced by the manufacturer or an authorised agent.

In Queensland, all vessels operating beyond smooth or partially smooth waters and more than two nautical miles from land, must carry a 406 MHz digital distress beacon.

To ensure you comply with the legislation you must:

• carry a 406 MHz EPIRB if you operate beyond smooth or partially smooth waters and more than two nautical miles from land in Queensland (fines will apply)

• ensure that your EPIRB complies with the Australian / New Zealand standard 4280.1:2003

• ensure your new 406 MHz beacon is registered with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) – registration is free

• advise AMSA of any change to ownership and vessel details.



Registration stickers are issued by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and provide EPIRB owners and marine inspectors with proof of current registration. The sticker will note the HexID/UIN of the beacon, its registration expiry date (two years from date of issue) and boat name or owner’s name depending on type of beacon and use. This registration sticker must be affixed to the beacon. A fine may result if a current sticker is not affixed to a beacon during a safety equipment inspection.

For more information – 


Boaties are reminded to dispose of old 121.5 MHz EPIRB’s at Battery World stores around Australia. This is a free service.

NOTE: Do not dispose of your beacon in general waste as it will end up in landfill and could be activated inadvertently.

Distress flares

All vessels operating beyond smooth water limits must carry orange and red hand flares as part of their safety equipment. Packs of flares contain two orange smoke flares for daytime use and two red flares for use in the dark. Flares are a way for a boat in trouble to attract the attention of other boats or aircraft in the area. A distress flare should only be used when other methods of alerting others to a problem have failed. First try contacting other boats or shore based authorities using a marine radio or mobile phone.

Orange smoke flares can be seen in clear conditions at sea level from a distance of up to four km and even further from an aircraft. Red hand flares can be seen at sea level at a distance of up to 10 kms. Always read the instructions and familiarise yourself with them before storing your flares on board. Store the flares in a dry place where they will be readily accessible in an emergency.

Remember – Flares have a lifespan of three years and must be replaced prior to the expiry date. Obtain a “Don’t Expire” sticker from Maritime Safety Queensland as a reminder to replace your flares.

Signalling devices

Signalling devices are compulsory for all boats operating between sunset and sunrise. A torch, fluorescent light, lantern or cyalume stick are all suitable as long as they generate enough light to be seen by other boats and prevent a collision and attract attention.

Fire fighting equipment

Fire fighting equipment is required to be carried by all vessels over 5 metres in length. The most efficient piece of fire fighting equipment is a fire extinguisher, however it must be capable of extinguishing a fire quickly and effectively. Remember, fire extinguishers must be serviced at specified intervals.

Navigation equipment

All boats operating in partially smooth waters and beyond should carry some form of navigation equipment for example, charts or Beacon to Beacon, compass or GPS. The Beacon to Beacon Directory is recommended for all boats operating in applicable areas.

Other equipment

Pumping and bailing

All boats should carry suitable bailing equipment. For boats under 5 metres, buckets are considered suitable bailing equipment. Boats 5 metres and over require a bilge pump.


All boats should carry a suitable anchor with a minimum of two metres of chain and a length of line suitable for the depth of water.

Manual propulsion

Boats under six metres in length should carry oars or paddles in case of emergency. If the boat has fittings for rowlocks, carry the correct length oars with rowlocks securely attached. If not, the paddles should be long and of sufficient strength to do the job.


Drinking water

All boats should carry sufficient drinking water for everyone on board for the duration of the trip.

Bar crossing rules (under 4.8m)


If you cross the bar without a life jacket on, you cross the line

Everyone in open boats under 4.8 metres, while crossing a declared coastal bar, now must be wearing a life jacket. Designated coastal bars include Round Hill Bar, Wide Bay Bar, Noosa Bar, Maroochydore Bar, Mooloolaba River Mouth, Caloundra Bar, South Passage Bar, Jumpinpin Bar, Gold Coast Seaway, Tallebudgera Bar, Currumbin Bar.

A bar is an accumulation of sand or silt at the entrance of a river, creek, passage or harbour.

Conditions prevailing on a bar can cause steep and often breaking seas. For this reason it is important to take a number of precautions and manoeuvre the boat with extreme caution. Crossing a bar is a job for an experienced boat handler.


Conditions on a bar change quickly and without warning. The skipper‘s experience and boat type should be taken into account when considering a bar crossing. No amount of experience or boat type makes crossing a bar safe when the conditions are adverse.

Don‘t take a risk – if in doubt, don‘t go out.

All sand bars are different. You need to learn about each bar by seeking advice from groups who may cross it on a regular basis or local commercial boating operators, maritime authorities, marine rescue groups, Boating and Fisheries Patrol or the Water Police. Immediately prior to crossing a bar always contact the local marine rescue group for an update on conditions at the bar.

Boat operators must assess conditions on a bar and be aware that a rapid change in conditions might prevent a safe return. Boats unable to weather adverse sea conditions outside the bar should not leave port. Obtain a weather report for the time of crossing the bar and a weather forecast of conditions expected on your return.

Preparing to cross a bar

• Effective communication must be established with the local marine rescue group.

• Obtain up-to-date tide and weather information.

• It is always preferable to cross on an incoming tide.

• Stay at a safe distance until a report on the prevailing bar conditions has been obtained.

• Ensure that all deck openings, hatches and doors are securely battened down or closed.

• All loose gear must be secured.

• All persons must wear an approved PFD.

• Ensure all lifesaving equipment is accessible and ready for immediate use and everyone knows how to use it.

Crossing a bar

• While approaching the bar keep a close lookout for depth of water, smallest waves, where the breakers are and where gaps appear.

• Check where other boats are crossing the bar. This will be the most likely spot you too will cross the bar.

Monitor the:

– prevailing wind direction and force

– sets – wave pattern and timing

– course to follow

– bar traffic

– alternative routes.

• Ensure any preceding boat is well clear of the bar before attempting to cross.

• Approaches should be made at a moderate speed so the operator is capable of increasing or decreasing speed.

Outbound – Heading out to sea

• Motor slowly to the breaking waves looking for the area where waves break last or, preferably, not at all. Wait for a flatter than usual stretch of water and motor through.

• If there seems no break in the waves slowly power through each oncoming wave.

• Ensure you are not going too fast over each wave as this could cause the boat to ‘bottom out’ if it dives heavily.

• If possible, make the crossing with the waves slightly on the bow so the boat rolls gently over the crest of each wave.

Inbound – Heading back to port

• Approaching from sea, increase power of the boat to catch up with the bigger set of waves.

• Position the boat on the back of the wave (DO NOT surf down the face of the wave).

• Adjust the boat’s speed to match the speed of the waves – but DO NOT attempt to overtake the waves.

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Cruising, wave jumping, surf riding and skiing are just a few fun ways to enjoy your Personal Watercraft (PWC). Whatever activity you choose, the best way to enjoy your sport is safely. Whether you own or just borrow a PWC, it is vital to understand the safety rules and regulations for a PWC in Queensland. Otherwise you risk getting an ‘on-the-spot fine’. More information about PWC regulations is available from Maritime Safety Queensland’s website or contact your local regional office.

Personal watercraft licensing

It is compulsory for all PWC operators to hold a Personal Watercraft Licence (PWCL). This is a separate licence from the existing Recreational Marine Driver Licence (RMDL). You are required to have a PWC licence if you are a new operator or currently own a PWC, or even if you are just borrowing a mate’s ski just to have a go.

All licence applicants must complete an approved BoatSafe course for personal watercraft operations before being eligible for a licence. A valid Recreational Marine Drivers Licence is a prerequisite for the PWC licence.

Personal watercraft registration

All PWC must be registered. Registration symbols must be:

• displayed on both sides

• at least 100mm high

• legible from 30 metres

• clearly visible in contrasting colour to your craft

• easily seen if your craft is underway.


The registration label must be displayed on the port (left) side of your craft, adjacent to the registration symbols.

Ride smart sticker and Capacity Label

A Ride Smart sticker and Capacity Label must be affixed to the PWC and visible to the operator at all times.


Safety equipment for personal watercraft

Personal flotation devices (PFDs)

All PWC operators and passengers must wear the correct type of PFD at all times.

• PFD Type 2 (Level 50), Type 3 (Level 50 S) or

a wetsuit with inbuilt flotation approved as PFD type 3 (Level 50 S) in smooth water limits.

• PFD Type 2 (Level 50) only in partially smooth and open water limits.





Wear a Personal Floatation Device    

Type 2  ( Level 50)


Type 3  (Level 50 S)

Wear a Personal Floatation Device

Type 2  (Level 50)


Wear a Personal Floatation Device

Type 2  (Level 50)


Carry a Signaling device

(torch or lantern at night)

Carry a Signaling device

(torch or lantern at night)

Carry a Signaling Device

(torch or lantern at night)


V sheet

V sheet



2 red flares &

2 orange  smoke

signals in date

2 red flares &

2 orange  smoke

signals in date



EPIRB over 2 nm offshore







Anchor, chain

& rope 18 mt.

Anchor, chain

& rope 27mt.

Anchor, chain

& rope 27 mt.

Drinking water

Drinking water

Drinking water


Navigation chart  /

Beacon to Beacon &

Liquid damped compass


Handheld electronic navigation device

(if not equipped with a chart & compass)

Navigation chart  /

Beacon to Beacon &

Liquid damped compass


Handheld electronic navigation device

(if not equipped with a chart & compass)



If you travel more than two nautical miles offshore, when beyond smooth and partially smooth waters,you must carry an Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). Remember, your EPIRB must now be a 406 MHz digital EPIRB.

You must register your 406 MHz beacon with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority and display the registration sticker on the beacon. You must also advise AMSA of any changes to ownership and vessel details. Safety equipment which carries a manufacturer’s expiry date must be serviced by the manufacturer (or authorised service agent) by the expiry date and replaced before the nominated expiry date.

Navigation lights

PWCs travelling at night or at times of reduced visibility must show navigation lights – sidelights and either an all round white light or a stern and masthead light.

Personal watercraft distance and speed

It is important you do not exceed set speed limits for your safety and everyone else using the water. Do not travel at speeds where your wash can cause damage to the shoreline, other boats or injury to others. Consider the density of traffic in the area to determine a safe speed.

When riding a PWC the following distances must be adhered to; or reduce speed to 6 knots (approx 11km/hr) within 60 metres from:

• people in the water

• from anchored or moored boats, boat ramps, jetties or pontoons

• the shore

• boundary of bathing reserve.

Exceptions apply to ‘6 knots within 60 metres’ from the shore under the following conditions:

• the waterway is less than 120 metres wide

• the PWC operator is operating the jet ski in as close as practicable to a straight line to transit the area

• the PWC operator stays as close as is practicable to the centre of the waterway or a marked channel

• the PWC is being used in waterskiing/towing.

In coastal waters, freestyling or wave jumping is restricted to:

• outside 200 metres of the shore if dwellings are within 100 metres of the shore line, and are in the vicinity of the waters where PWC is operating. Coastal waters do not include dams and inland waters.


Spacing Rule whilst Underway

If you're travelling more than 10 knots you must keep a distance of 30m from other moving boats—unless you're involved in an approved aquatic event or where doing so would endanger you or another person.

Supervising Unlicensed Riders

A supervised unlicensed driver is not allowed to carry passengers—other than the supervising licence holder. The supervising licence holder must wear a kill switch safety lanyard while the PWC is being driven by the unlicensed driver.

Noosa River Marine Zone

New Rules Apply

Restrictions apply for certain water-based activities on the Noosa River as part of the new Noosa River Marine Zone. The most significant changes apply to personal watercraft (PWC) activities, water skiing, freestyling, hovercraft and airboats.

Marine zones are about better managing our waterways at a local level to balance the needs of maritime users with local community concerns about amenity. Before heading out, it is a good idea to check what restrictions are in place. All marine zones are outlined on MSQ website.

For more information on the Noosa River Marine Zone visit

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Knowledge Quiz?

1.    Which of the following are some general safety obligations of a vessel master/operator?

(a) check the boat is safe to operate prior to use

(b) ensure crew and passengers are safe during operation

(c) ensure the right equipment is carried on board and can be used effectively in an emergency

(d) educate the crew and passengers so they know what to do in an emergency

(e) having a competent skipper to operate the boat

(f) following rules so that other boaters are not injured by unsafe practices

(g) all of the above

2.    In Queensland what boats have to be Registered?

(a) all boats with a motor fitted

(b) any boat that uses a public boat ramp to launch from

(c) all boats fitted with a motor or auxiliary of 3KW (over 4hp) and over

(d) all boats fitted with a motor of more than 4.5KW(over 6hp)

3.    What are the lawful requirements in relation to the display of your planning hull boat Registration symbols? 

(a) must be able to be read from a distance of 30 metres

(b) must be clearly visible in plain characters in a contrasting colour to the hull of the boat

(c) must have characters a minimum of 200mm high on both sides

(d) all of the above

4.    In Queensland when are your required by law to be the holder of a licence when operating?

(a) all boats fitted with a motor or auxiliary of 3KW (over 4hp) and over

(b) all boats fitted with a motor of more than 4.5KW(over 6hp)

(c) all boats that are capable of doing more than 10 knots speed

(d) any boat capable of planing

5.    Children under 12 years of age required by law to wear their life jackets on a open boat when?

(a) the boat is under the length of 4.8 metres and underway

(b) the boat is under the length of 4.8 metres when it is at anchor

(c) the boat is under the length of 5 metres and underway

(d) the boat is travelling at a speed greater than 12 knots

6.    When are all persons onboard by law required to wear a life jacket in a boat?

(a) when they are not good swimmers

(b) the boat length is under 4.8 metres, while crossing a designated coastal bar

(c) when the boat length is under 3.7 metres at all times

(d) when operating in open waters

7.    When operating a boat you are required to slow down to 6 knots speed when coming within 30 metres from what?

(a) boats anchored, moored to the shore or aground

(b) jetty, wharf, pontoon or boat ramp

(c) people in the water

(d) all of the above

8.    What is the name of the yellow beacon with the cross as a top shape and what does it mean to you as a vessel operator?

(a) Isolated Danger mark, do not approach close to it (underwater navigation hazzard)

(b) Safe Water mark, safe water all round

(c) Special mark, refer to your chart of beacon to beacon for the area

(d) North Cardinal mark, pass to the north

9.    When entering a harbour what beacon or buoy should you keep on your starboard (right) side and what colour and top shape does it display?

(a) starboard/green with a top shape of a cone facing upwards

(b) port/red with a top shape of a can

(c) special/yellow with top shape of cross

(d) none of the above

10.    What does an Isolated Danger beacon or buoy look like and what does it mean to you?

(a) Yellow cross as a top shape, refer to your chart of beacon to beacon for the area

(b) Two black spheres as a top shape, do not approach to close to it (underwater navigation hazard)

(c)  Two cones facing upwards as a top shape, pass to the north

(d) A red sphere as a top shape, safe water close to it

11.    Explain what a "West Cardinal" beacon or buoy and looks like and means to you as a vessel operator?

(a) West Cardinal has a black top shape that looks like a wineglass or a woman's waist, pass to the west of it

(b) West Cardinal has a black top shape that looks like a egg, pass to the west of it

(c) West Cardinal has a black top shape of two cones facing upwards, pass to the west of it

(d) West Cardinal has a black top shape of two cones facing downwards, pass to the west of it

12.    Which direction to you turn if you are in a "head on situation" with another vessel?

(a) Alter course to port

(b) Alter course to starboard

(c) Stop and reverse

(d) Maintain your course and increase your speed

13.    What should you consider when "overtaking" another vessel?

(a) Overtake to the starboard side of another vessel only

(b) Overtake on the port side of another vessel only

(c) Overtake whichever side is safe and keep clear of the other vessel whilst overtaking

(d) Overtake either side and increase your speed to overtake quickly

14.    Which vessel gives way in a "crossing situation"?

(a) A vessel with another vessel approaching on the port side

(b) The vessel with another vessel approaching on the starboard side

(c) The fastest vessel

(d) The smallest vessel

15.    What should you do if you have right of way?

(a) Stop and let the other vessel go first

(b) Stand on - maintain your course and speed - be prepared to avoid a collision if the other vessel does not give way

(c) Increase your speed

(d) Change course away from the other vessel

Quiz Answers:

1. (g)    2. (c)    3. (d)    4. (b)    5.(a)    6. (b)    7. (d)    8. (c)

9. (a)    10. (b)    11. (a)    12. (b)    13. (c)    14. (b)    15. (b)


The following readings contain extracts from the Queensland Recreational Boating and Fishing Guide, 2009-2010 Edition published by Maritime Safety Queensland, Queensland Transport.

Images used to support these readings were kindly supplied by:

  • Maritime Safety Queensland

  • "Australian Boating Manual" by Captain Dick Gandy

  • Wet Paper Productions

  • Department of Transport, Energy and Infrastructure, South Australia.

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