Noise from vessels

The Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 and the Protection of the Environment Operations (Noise Control) Regulation 2017 are two key legislative measures put in place to control noise levels on NSW waterways. These laws primarily exist to address and eliminate offensive noise.

Definition of offensive noise

Offensive noise is defined in the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 as noise:

  1. That, by reason of its level, nature, character or quality, or the time at which it’s made, or any other circumstances:
    • Is harmful to (or is likely to be harmful to) a person who is outside the premises from which it’s emitted, or
    • Interferes unreasonably with (or is likely to interfere unreasonably with) the comfort or repose of a person who is outside the premises from which it is emitted, or
  2. That is of a level, nature, character or quality prescribed by the regulations or that is made at a time, or in other circumstances, prescribed by the regulations.

The test for offensive noise is one of a ‘reasonable person’. In deciding whether the noise from a motor vessel is offensive, the factors that would be taken into account include:

  • The character of the noise (eg tones, impulses and fluctuations)
  • The quality of the noise
  • The noise level
  • The effect of the noise on activities
  • The amount the noise exceeds the background noise level
  • The time of the noise event
  • The waterside land-use
  • The number of people affected.

Aquatic events

For racing vessels, the generally accepted maximum noise level for engines is 95 dB at 30 metres, tested in accordance with Australian Standard 2254-1988.

Transport for NSW may make it a condition of an Aquatic licence for a significant international or national event, that a particular race or meeting may exceed the generally accepted maximum noise levels, but only if the relevant local council(s) has provided the race organiser with their written approval.

Amplified music

When considering amplified music, the concept of ‘offensive noise’ must be applied.

In response to increased community awareness and concern about noise from vessels on Sydney Harbour, Transport for NSW, through its Commercial Vessels User Group, developed a Commercial vessels using amplified sound systems on Sydney Harbour The Code of Conduct was introduced to ensure that Owners and Masters of commercial vessel comply when on NSW navigable waters.

This Code signifies a commitment by commercial operators to reduce the level of offensive noise emitted from amplified music systems on board commercial vessels.

The Code specifies that no offensive noise will be emitted from any commercial vessel, at any time. In addition to this, the Code specifies time-based restrictions on commercial vessels operating amplified music systems in areas of Sydney Harbour, North Harbour and Middle Harbour (and connected tributaries).

If you wish to report excess vessel noise, you can do so in either of the following ways:

  • Phoning the Information Line on 131 236 between 8.30am and 5pm Monday to Friday or between 8.30am and 4.30pm on Saturdays and Sundays
  • Visit the Contact Roads and Waterways page and leave feedback on the feedback form.
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