Preparing to go on the water
As the skipper, you're responsible for safety of the vessel and people on board. Be prepared to keep everyone safe and enjoy time on the water.
Carry enough lifejackets
Wearing a lifejacket can save your life. Make sure your vessel is carrying enough approved lifejackets for everyone on board. They must be in good condition and quick and easy to access.
Always wear a lifejacket while on the water. This means that you'll be more prepared for unexpected events, such as suddenly falling into the water.
The rules for wearing a lifejacket depend on your vessel, where you are and the level of risk. See When to wear a lifejacket.
Know the rules
Before you go out, make sure you know the rules and regulations for using NSW waterways. Key rules to help you stay safe and avoid collisions including:
- keeping a proper lookout for hazards
- knowing who you must give way to and when
- identifying and obeying navigation marks, lights and sounds
- travelling at a safe speed and keeping a safe distance between your vessel and other people, vessels and objects
- staying under the legal limit for alcohol
- knowing the rules for towing a person on the water and towing a trailer on the road.
Check the weather
Always check the weather before you head out. Be aware of warnings, marine conditions, storms, winds, waves and tides. This can make the difference between an enjoyable day and an emergency situation. If in doubt, don't go out.
Let someone know
Before you leave, contact a friend or relative or use your marine radio to log on with a coastal radio base. Tell them:
- where you're going
- your estimated return time
- your vessel details
- how many people are on board.
Take extra care to let someone know if you are going out alone.
Report in if you extend or change your trip.
You can also use the MarineRescue app to log on and log off with Marine Rescue NSW.
Know what to do in an emergency
Being on the water can be unpredictable and dangerous. Be prepared for an emergency or incident, and know what to do and who to contact if you run into trouble.
If you're involved in or witness an incident, you must always stop and give as much help as possible. Depending on the severity of the incident – for example, if someone is injured – you may need to give information to authorities.
Marine Rescue NSW provides important services, including safety education, marine radio communication, and emergency search and rescue services.
Check your vessel
Check your vessel is in good working order, including the engine and lights. Check you have all the correct equipment on board before you leave home or launch your vessel.
If your vessel is registered, check the registration has not expired.
Check your vessel is suitable for the waterways you want to travel on. For example, if the vessel is designed for enclosed waters, it may not suit open waters or along the coast where waves are larger.
Check all hatches can be opened from both the inside and outside of the vessel. Keep all hatches unlocked while the vessel is underway.
Anyone driving your vessel should have the skills and experience to handle the vessel on the waterway you're using.
Have the correct safety equipment
Check you have the correct safety equipment on board for where you're going and your vessel type.
Make sure every item is in good condition and easy to access. Everyone on board should know its location and how to use it.
Plan where you want to go
Plan where you're going and know how long the trip will take. Be aware of any special waterways or designated areas. Check the location of harbours, ports and potential refuges from bad weather.
Take extra care in cold water, especially alpine waters, where your risk of cold shock and hypothermia are increased.
Build your experience by starting out on calm, quiet waterways. Take a more experienced person with you, if possible.
Make sure you have enough fuel. Plan to use a third to get there, a third to get home, and have a third in reserve for unexpected events.
Make sure you have a compass and up-to-date chart (or map) for the waterways you will be using, especially if you're going out on open waters.
You must have a chart or map if you plan to go out on open waters.
If you're taking children out on your vessel:
- Make sure they have a lifejacket and are wearing it when required.
- Teach them emergency procedures and drills, such as what to do if they fall overboard or the vessel capsizes.
- Show them where the safety equipment is, and teach them how to use emergency items, such as the marine radio, EPIRB and flares. Make sure they understand they must only use them in an emergency.
- Show them how to get in and out of dinghies and small boats while keeping them stable.
- Make sure they do not have any part of their body out of the vessel when it's underway.
- Teach them about keeping a proper lookout and a safe distance from other vessels.
- If you're planning to tow, make sure they know the rules for towing people aged under 16.
- Carry everything they need to be prepared for all types of weather.
- Consider the risk of seasickness, especially if you're going out on choppy water.
- Teach children about lifejackets and sunscreen.
Download boating apps
Boating apps give you quick access to helpful information about waterways on your smartphone or tablet. For example, boat ramps, speed zones, navigation aids, weather, special events and safety advice.
Transport for NSW endorses Deckee, available for free via the Apple Store and Google Play. The Deckee app includes maps showing boat ramps, speed zones, navigational aids. It also has access to a live data feed from Transport for NSW that captures alerts, marine notices and campaigns.
- Explore the waterways and browse tips and photos of fishing spots and anchorages from other boaters
- Read business reviews and connect with local service providers
- Compare boat insurance
- AIS vessel tracking – follow the real time movements of AIS registered vessels
- Receive live updates of important marine notices from Transport for NSW
- See the latest weather information
The Marine Rescue NSW app has useful safety tools and information. For example, log on and off function, local tides, weather conditions, safety checklists and emergency call procedures. For more information, see MarineRescue App.