(Extracts courtesy of NSW RMS and A.N.T.A, Ranger Hope © 2022


Recreational boating responsibilities

Boat identification

Licensing requirements for drivers

Boating accidents

Permit requirements

Safety rules

Speed limits and distance limitation

Shore zones, anchoring, tying up

Diving operations

Personal water craft (PWC) 

Boat capacity limits

Drink driving


Safety equipment


Collision regulations

General rules

Poor visibility

Navigation lights 

Other vessels

Your vessel 


Buoyage Systems

IALA Buoyage System “A” 




Recreational boating responsibilities

The rules governing commercial and recreational boating differ from coutry to country, and from State to State within those countries. In the US all nominated vessels require State registration though there is reciprocation between some States, and a Federal registration is possible through the US Coastguard. In the UK vessels over 45 foot (13.7mtrs), ones that carry 12 and more passengers or commercial vessels require registration through the UK MCA. While in Australia commercial registration is regulated by the Federal authority of AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority), with exemptions available for specific small working craft. Australian recreational vessel registration is regulated by the States and Territories. In Northern Territory no registraion is required for recreational boats (though an operator must conform to local regulations and register locally if operatng in another State), in South Australia all vessels must be registered, in Western Australia all boats capable of being power driven, and in NSW all vessels over 5.5mtrs and 4kw power as well as jet skis must register and hold a boat licence.

So while the comments below are specific to NSW recreational craft are true at the time of writing they are subject to change at short notice. It is the operators responsibility to consult local boating guides from the Statutory Marine Authority. If you are not complying with the law heavy penalties can result and ignorance of the law is no defence.


Recreational boat registration and transfer

Most States require vessels to be built and equipped to safety standards and registered, but they differ as far as exemptions are concerned. Typically a boat has a unique HIN number allocated and fixed to the hull at the build completion. An initial registration is applied for and subsequent annual renewals (with the appropriate fees) are required. Should you buy or sell a boat, a “Change of Ownership” form must be completed by the seller and purchaser which is submitted to the Authority.


Boat identification

An annual registration label and the permanent boat identification number must be fitted to the vessel in most States. The size and position of the numbers may vary with different States, but they would need to be clearly visible in all cases.

Figure 1 Boat identification number

Licencing requirements for drivers

Some States require people who drive power boats to hold a licence. They may called a Power Boat Licence, a Speed Boat Licence or a Jet Ski Licence. Qualifying experience, training and testing can be required. In most States the qualifying age is 16 years for a full licence but some States issue a restricted licence to people as young as 12 years. 

Your licence is subject to cancellation if convicted of a variety of offences including:

·        Reckless or careless navigation.

·        Causing nuisance or danger.

·        Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

·        Making false statements.


Boating accidents

Safe speed (the ability to stop a vessel in time to to avoid collision) is a major cause of accidents. Another is by not mounting a proper lookout (by sight, sound and any other means appropriate in the conditions, such as radar plotting in fog).

Figure 2 Proper lookout


Other boating accidents or marine incidents can include such things as:

·        Loss of a boat.

·        Damage or fire on a boat.

·        Collision with another boat.

·        Any incident causing injuries to persons.

All incidents must be reported as soon as possible after the event and in writing within 48 hours. In Queensland, reports are made to a shipping inspector who may be a member of the Water Police or the Department of Transport. In Western Australia reports are made to the Department of Transport, and in NSW to Roads and Maritime Services (Service NSW). Check the requirements and the ‘authority’ in your State.

Permit requirements

There may be requirements in your State to obtain a permit for such things as:

·        Towing through a harbour or anchorage.

·        Holding an aquatic event such as a skiing competition, jet ski or power boat race, sail boat regatta, etc.

·        Living on board your vessel.

·        Putting down a permanent mooring.


Safety rules

Rules are necessary to protect the rights and safety of all concerned in a particular activity. We have rules in sport as well as for driving on the road. An important point to remember is that we also have a safety obligation or a moral responsibility of duty of care for one another. It may be possible to be operating within the letter of the law but outside that general safety obligation.

As an example, under recreational boating legislation the regulation safety equipment listed may be an anchor and cable for 5 metre boats operating in smooth water. As a rowing boat operating in a river (smooth water) you may not have to carry full safety equipment by regulationIf you decided not to carry an anchor you may be within the State's laws. But if you ventured too close to the river mouth and were swept out over the river bar and capsized then it is clear that an anchor should have been carried to prevent the accident. You would therefore have failed to meet the safety obligation and could be prosecuted. Worse, it may cost someone their life.


Rules by themselves will not prevent accidents. While we have an obligation to know them, we have a greater obligation to operate our boat in a safe manner.

Because of the world wide nature of the marine industry, many of our rules have an international origin. We will look at these in the sections covering Collision Regulations and Buoyage Systems. The States have powers to make rules to meet local needs. Let’s now look at some of the areas which are likely to be covered by State regulations, remembering there are variations between the States.


Speed limits and distance limitations

Figure 3 NSW speed zones


These would usually apply when near people in the water, other boats or where your ‘wash’ could cause damage or annoyance. Such situations would include:

·        Near DIVER DOWN signals.

·        In channels and harbours.

·        Near a wharf or jetty.

·        Near beaches with people swimming.


Figure 4 NSW warning signs



The safe distance from dive operations varies from 30 metres to 120 metres in different States.


Entering shore zones, anchoring, tying up

Entry restrictions apply to river shoreline and ocean beach zones in NSW to protect swimmers from power vessel prop injuries. Small craft that routinely operate in or near such areas (surf lifesaving ducks) must consider fitting prop guards.

Figure 5 NSW foreshore and ocean beach operating zones


Generally, anchoring in a channel or approach to any landing place should be avoided in order not to obstruct traffic. This is not the case in an emergency. Do not anchor near a submarine cable.

Your can secure to a public jetty without obstructing others, but you may be restricted by time limits. Securing to a floating object or structure owned privately or by a public authority is not permitted. This means you cannot tie up to a navigation mark while fishing!



Diving operations


Figure 6 NSW Divers below


Any vessel with a diver below is considered to be restricted and is required to indicate this. In daylight this is the International Code flag A.

The night signal is red, white, red lights in a vertical line. If there is no vessel involved in the operation, the signals must be displayed from the shore or a buoy. In some States there are restrictions on diving within certain distances of moored vessels, channels, etc.


Personal water craft (PWC or Jetski)

Most States are in the process of introducing measures to provide stronger control of P.W.C. in response to community concern about the behaviour of P.W.C. riders. These measures will include:

·        Creating a special class of boat driver’s license for P.W.C. use including a requirement to sit a knowledge test.

·        Increasing the distance off provisions.

·        Creating an offensive behaviour offence and increasing on the spot fines for existing safety offences.

·        Provisions for cancelling licences.

·        Improving the identification system of P.W.C.

It would appear that safety and nuisance obligations have not been followed by sufficient P.W.C. users making these stronger measures necessary.

Existing regulations cover such matters as safety equipment, age, speed limits, environmental protection, noise pollution, hours and areas of operation.

Keep up to date if you are involved in this very popular water activity.


Boat capacity limits

The safe carrying capacity of power driven recreational vessels is determined by Australian Safety Standards with slight variations within States.

Length in Metres

No. of Persons

Less than 3.0


3.0 – 3.5


3.5 – 4.5


4.5 – 5.0


5.0 – 5.5


5.5 – 6.0


Over 6 metres the number is calculated by formula, but common sense tells us that overloading is dangerous. Particular care should be taken to restrict the number of people in the flybridge as weight up high can easily upset the stability of the boat causing it to capsize.


Figure 7 Safety label

NSW power driven vessels are required to display a passenger/crew capacity safety label.


Drink driving

There are limits of permissible concentrations of alcohol in the blood for operators of boats which align closely with the levels permitted when driving a car. In most States it is 0.05%. Operators of commercial vessels are even further restricted, often to zero as with bus drivers and pilots.



Laws in every State prohibit acts of pollution which harm the marine environment and this includes the dumping of almost anything into the ocean. Pollution can take many forms:

·        Noise from motors insufficiently muffled, power tools, etc.

·        The dumping of harmful substances such as oil, plastics, degreasers, detergents and chemicals.

·        Garbage and toilet waste.

Take extra care when refuelling, don’t pump bilges into the ocean and bring your garbage home.

“Stow it – don’t throw it!”


Safety equipment

All States require registerable vessels to carry a range and type of safety equipment depending on the area of operation of the boat. It makes sense that the further we go offshore, the longer we may have to survive and therefore the quantity and quality of equipment needs to increase.

Figure 8 Safety equipment


During boat training Workplace Health and Safety at Sea will be addressed that practices the use of survival equipment procedures. A list of equipment that may be required on board is given below. It is very important that you are aware of the operational limits and the equipment required for that area.

·        EPIRB – Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.

·        PFD’s – Personal Floatation Devices/Life Jackets.

·        Fire fighting equipment.

·        V Sheet.

·        Flares – red hand held or orange smoke.

·        Signalling devices –torches, lanterns, etc.

·        Anchors and cable.

·        Pumping/baling equipment.

·        Manual propulsion – oars or paddles.

·        Navigation equipment – charts, compass or other, such as G.P.S.

·        Drinking water.

Figure 9 V sheet - for search and rescue aircraft signal


If you are going offshore the best lifeline you can have is a marine radio. Marine radio telephone operation is another core skill of the boat user. The importance of being able to operate marine radio cannot be over stressed. It can provide you with continuous updated weather information as well as immediate emergency assistance. When you are in trouble it is very comforting to know that help is on its way.

Figure 10 Marine radio



Collision Regulations

A commonly used name for Collision Regulations is the ‘Rules of the Road’. These rules apply in all States and all over the world and their full name is the “International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea”. In this text it is intended to introduce them in a simplified and common sense form. The first misunderstanding is that the Rules endow a vessel with a right of way over another.

No where in the rules does the phrase right of way appear.

The Rules determine if a vessel has a duty to give way or a duty to stand on. Even then, Rule 2 defines the responsibility of any vessel to take all necessary action that avoids danger and collision, as below:


Rule 2 Responsibility

(a) Nothing in these Rules shall exonerate any vessel, or the owner, master, or crew thereof, from the consequences of any neglect to comply with these Rules or of the neglect of any precaution which may be required by the ordinary practice of seamen, or by the special circumstances of the case.

(b) In construing and complying with these Rules due regard shall be had to all dangers of navigation and collision and to any special circumstances, including the limitations of the vessels involved, which may make a departure from these Rules necessary to avoid immediate danger.


General rules

·        The rules apply to everyone in any sort of boat and we all have a responsibility to know them and follow them.

·        We should always keep a good lookout to be aware of what is happening around us.

·        Travel at a safe speed so you can stop in time to avoid an accident.

·        If you see another boat or boats, keep your eye on them and decide if there is a risk of collision. If there is any doubt, slow down or alter course in plenty of time.

·        In marked channels, keep to the starboard side, obey speed limits and don’t interfere with any other vessel. Don’t cross a channel or join a channel unless you can do it without interfering with other vessels.

Figure 11 Keep to the right

·        In a small power boat you must keep out of the way of all other types of craft. This is because you have better manoeuvrability (ability to stop or turn) than sailing vessels, fishing boats and all larger boats.

·        If it is anything but another small power boat, keep well clear of it.

·        If it is another power boat and you think there is a risk of collision, the following three rules apply:

·        If you are overtaking any other vessel, you must keep out of its way. You can pass on either side but not cross in front of it after you have passed.

Figure 12 All vessels keep well clear either side when overtaking


·         If two power boats are approaching head on, both boats are expected to alter course to starboard and pass port to port. Don’t always expect a large power driven vessel to alter course – he may be restricted by the amount of water available to him. You move over further to starboard if necessary.

·       If two power boats are crossing paths, give way to the vessel to your right (starboard). You can slow down or alter course to go astern of him.  Never increase speed and cut across his bows!


Figure 13 top - Power vessels Head on: both vessels alter to starboard,

Figure 13 bot - Power vessels Crossing: vessel to the right stands on (she sees the others green stb sidelight),

that to the left gives way (she sees the others red port sidelight).

Figure 14 top - Power vessel gives way to sailing vessel

Figure 14 bot - Sailing vessels on differing tacks, the port tack vessel gives way


Figure 15 - Sailing vessels on same tack, the windward vessel gives way



Poor visibility

If it is becoming difficult to see because of fog, rain or any other cause, consider the general rules and common sense. Increase the number of look outs and slow down. Turn on your navigation lights and sound a horn if you have one (one long blast every two minutes). In restricted visibility every boat has an equal responsibility to keep out of the way of each other.

Restricted visibility does not include night time because you can see the lights of other vessels. It goes without saying that you must show lights as well. You can tell the type of vessel and the direction it is heading by the combination of colours.



Navigation lights

Navigation at night is more difficult than in daylight because it can be hard to see and it is difficult to judge distances.  To operate at night without navigation lights is dangerous and irresponsible and even at anchor we must remember to show our all round white anchor light.

In a head on situation you would see green, white and red.


Figure 16 - Vessels' lights


Other vessels

The diagram below shows the basic fixed light arcs as shown between sunset and sunrise or in restricted visibility when a vessel is underway - 225 degress for the mast head light, 112.5 degrees for the side lights, 135 degress for the stern light. An all round light will show continuous over 360 degrees.

Figure 17 - Arcs of lights


The characteristics of lights that each vessel shows is depenant on their type (trade), size, and situation and whether they are underway or anchored.

Power driven vessels underway over 50 mtrs in length must show masthead lights on both masts, sternlight and sidelights of the designated luminosity.
Power driven vessels underway between 12 to 50 mtrs in length must show a masthead, sternlight and sidelights of the designated luminosity.
If your power boat is less than 7m in length you should exhibit red and green side lights or a combined lantern and instead of masthead and stern light an all round (360 ° ) white light. This should be higher than the side lights.
If your power boat is between 7m and 12m you should exhibit a masthead light, stern light, separate side lights or a combined lantern. An all round white light may take the place of the masthead and stern

Yachts underway do not have to show a (white) masthead light but may instead show a red over green light at the masthead with port starboard and stern.
If less than 20m in length they may show a tricolour lantern at the top of the mast.
Yachts less than 7 metres and vessels under oars underway may use an electric torch or lantern showing a white light and displayed in plenty of time to prevent a collision.

Figure 18 - Power and sailing vessel's lights


Aspect of a vessel describes your visual sighting of it from your position This determines if you are the give way or the stand on vessel.
When a vessel is crossing in front of you, you would either see green and white or red and white. (Figure 19 vessels' aspects)


Figure 19 - Aspect of power and sailing vessel's lights


Large power driven vessels will show two masthead lights, the one at the stern being higher. They may show various other lights to show that they are working or hampered in some way, such as the dredge and vehicular ferry shown below:

Figure 20 - Aspect of power vessel and vehicular ferry lights


Instead of masthead lights fishing boats show an all round red light over a white light and trawlers show green over white to show that they are working. Power boats should keep well clear of them. Sydney Harbour ferries also show a flashing yellow light.


Figure 21 - Aspect of ferry and fishing vessel's lights




Buoyage and charts

As sign posts in the water we use the IALA Buoyage System, as agreed around the world, consisting of differing shaped, coloured and lit buoys to identify channels and dangers. IALA has two layout called IALA A and IALA B, both using the same buoys but marking out the channel's direction differently.

IALA A puts lateral port and starboard buoys to left and right of the channel as entering inward from the sea.
IALA B puts lateral port and starboard buoys to left and right of the channel as departing outward into the sea.

US, the Amercias, Japan, the Phillipines and other areas of American influence operate IALA Buoyage System B . In UK, Europe and Australia operate the IALA Buoyage System A. For road maps we use navigational charts which show the coastline, dangers such as rocks and reef, the depth of the water and the buoyage deployed.


IALA Buoyage System “A”

The buoyage system helps us by marking channels, dangers, safe water and alerting us to any special care that we should take!  They must be easily recognised by day and night and so there is a system of colours and lights to help us. All buoys are identified during the day by their COLOUR or SHAPE/TOP MARK. At night they can be identified by the COLOUR and the RHYTHM or pattern of the flashes.There are five different types:

Lateral Marks (port hand and starboard hand buoys)

Cardinal marks (indicating the compass direction toward safe water)

Isolated danger marks (indicating the position of a danger)

Safe water marks (indicating the position of safe water)

Special marks (indicating a feature of importance to navigation)


Lateral Marks:

Lateral marks show the sides of channels or other deep water through reef by port (left) and starboard (right) markers as you are entering port or going upstream in a river.  When entering port, the port hand marker (RED) should be kept on the port side of your boat which also has your red navigation light.  This means red to red coming into port. The opposite is therefore true going out of the port. Do you remember which one you should be closest to in each case? You travel on the starboard side of the channel!

·        Port mark is coloured red and the identification shape is a can (square).

·        Starboard mark is coloured green and the identification shape is conical (triangle).

·        At night the port buoy shows a red light and starboard shows green.

·        The shape may be the buoy itself or its Topmark as seen in the Figure 22 below.

The lights will always have a pattern (going on and off in a rhythm to distinguish them from each other) and so they won’t be confused with the port or starboard light of a boat which is on constantly (fixed).

Figure 22 - IALA Port and starboard buoys, the lateral marks



Figure 23 - IALA A System- entering a channel from the seaward.



Cardinal Marks:

A cardinal mark indicates where the safest water is.  There are four of them corresponding with the cardinal points of the compass. The safe water is:

 To the North of the North cardinal mark.

 To the East of the East cardinal mark.

 To the South of the South cardinal mark.

 To the West of the West cardinal mark.

Their topmarks are black double cones and the buoy is painted black and yellow horizontal strips relative to their respective cardinal point.

Figure 24 - Cardinal markers, the marks name is where the safe water is.

The light on a cardinal point is WHITE and each direction (North South East West) is distinguished by a group of quick or very quick flashes.

 North – continuous flash

 East – 3 flashes in a group

 South – 6 flashes in a group followed by a long flash

 West – 9 flashes in a group


Figure 24 - Cardinal markers, associating the number of flashes with the clock face


East – 3 o’clock – 3 flashes

South – 6 o’clock – 6 flashes + long

West – 9 o’clock – 9 flashes

For the North markers, twelve flashes is so many that it may just a well keep flashing, so it is continuous.



Isolated danger marks:

These mark a small isolated danger which has navigable water all around it. It may be marking an isolated shoal, rock or wreck.

You can pass them on either side at a safe distance because the danger will be directly under the buoy. If it was a large danger it would be marked with cardinal markers.

The body is black with at least one horizontal red band.

Its topmark is two black spheres positioned vertically and clearly separated.

Its light is white flashing in groups of two.

Figure 25 - Isolated danger


Safe Water Marks

These indicate that there is navigable or safe water all around the mark. They can be used as a mid channel or landfall buoy. When entering a harbour it is usually best to start from the landfall buoy. It may show you the entrance to a channel marked with lateral buoys or bring lead lights into line to guide you into the harbour.

It has red and white vertical stripes and its topmark is a single red sphere. It has a white light which can flash several rhythms but usually one long flash every ten seconds.

Figure 26 - Safe water

Special Marks:

Special marks are used to indicate a special area or feature such as traffic separations, spoil ground or pipelines. They can also be used to define a channel within a channel. That is, the deepest water in a wide estuary marked with lateral marks. In this case the port hand special mark would be can shaped and the starboard would be cone shaped.

They are always yellow and if they have a topmark it is a single X. Its light is also yellow and can be any rhythm except those used for cardinal, isolated danger and safe water marks. Colour these in yellow.

Figure 27 Special marks


The red boat navigates into the harbour using the IALA System A.

Figure 28 IALA System A

Navigation Charts

Charts are used to help us plan a safe passage by marking all of the known land and underwater features.  These features are marked on the chart using symbols and abbreviations which are common throughout the world. We also use charts to measure distance (in nautical miles) and direction (in degrees).

At this point in your studies we are not going to cover navigation. It is suggested that you acquire the chart of your local area and become familiar with the main local features.  These would include:

·        headlands and bays.

·        mountains.

·        lighthouses and navigation buoys.

·        reef areas and other hazards (wrecks etc).

·        depths of water and type of bottom.

You must develop sufficient local knowledge to know where you are and therefore the safe return.