Centre for Maritime Safety


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Alcohol & Drugs on the waterways
Maritime Enhanced Enforcement Program
Available types of lifejackets
Lifejacket standards
Vessel safety equipment
Modified safety equipment requirements
Lifejacket requirements
Lifejacket servicing
Offshore boating safety
Personal Watercraft (PWC)

Alcohol & Drugs on the Waterways

Is there random testing for alcohol (RBT) and drugs (MDT) on navigable waterways?

Yes, the rules for driving under the influence on the roads are similar to the waterways and that means random testing

Can someone be tested while at anchor, moored or at a berth

No, random testing only applies if the vessel is underway – and this includes vessels drifting without operational propulsion.

If found over the limit what are the penalties?

Maximum penalties range from $1100 for a low level offence, through to $5,500 and/or 2 years imprisonment for more serious offences. In addition, your boat/ PWC licence is likely to be suspended for between 3 months and 2 years.

Is the penalty linked to a vehicle driver licence?


Does it apply to someone in a small sailing boat?


Does it apply to a person in a paddle craft, like a kayak?


How many people are caught with illegal drugs in their system?

Legislation to enable MDT was only introduced last year under the Marine Safety Act and this is the first stage of operational activity. We know that other states have detected increasing rates of non-compliance.

Why introduce drug testing on the water?

As part of a Safe Systems approach on our waterways and consistency with practice in the other key area of transport: the road system. Boating is a relatively safe activity and the aim is to keep it that way, especially where there is a risk to other, innocent people enjoying our waterways

What if someone else is operating the vessel under the supervision of the skipper or master?

It is an offense for the skipper/master to allow another person to operate the vessel if they have reason to believe that person is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
What Government compliance agencies are allowed to carry out testing for alcohol and drugs?
Only NSW Police officers.

Maritime Enhanced Enforcement Program (MEEP)

Why is there a need to increase the amount of compliance officer time on our waterways?

Each year, lives are lost and people seriously injured on NSW waterways, and all too often many of these are preventable. In addition, there is a need to respond to community concerns on some waterways about anti-social, hoon and dangerous behaviour by riders of personal watercraft.

Why can’t RMS deliver all the State Government’s safety compliance and enforcement efforts on our waterways?

RMS Boating Safety Officers have a well established reputation for the delivery of their regulatory responsibilities to promote safe and responsible boating. Police also share those responsibilities as authorised officers under the Marine Safety Act.

What can the Police do what RMS officers can’t?

NSW Police are authorised, unlike RMS, to test a person for driving a vessel under the influence of alcohol and drugs. In addition, the Marine Area Command (MAC), of NSW Police, hold the lead responsibility regarding crime, security and, search and rescue in NSW.

Will MAC target particular groups or waterways?

Maritime Enhanced Enforcement Program (MEEP) activities will focus on evidence-based priority safety issues and behaviours known to contribute to, or associated with, trauma on the waterways of NSW. Campaigns will include random elements in-line with existing RBT operations.

Was there any testing or trial conducted on this MEEP?

In 2016-17, Transport for NSW funded a trial whereby MAC provided an enhanced enforcement role in response to anti-social, hoon and dangerous behaviour on some waterways in the Sydney region. The success of this trial has led to the establishment of an agreement between Transport for NSW and MAC to deliver MEEP over the next three seasons.

Why did the 2016-17 trial focus on the use of personal watercraft on waterways in southern Sydney over 2016-17?

There is elevated community concern about the misuse of PWC in that area, especially around the Georges River, Botany Bay and Port Hacking; a significant number of complaints about boating behaviour in the area involve PWC;

What sort of powers do Police have under NSW maritime legislation to tackle hoon behaviour?

On 1 December 2016 the Marine Safety Act 1998 was amended to allow police and other ‘authorised officers’ the powers to seize, impound and apply for forfeiture of recreational vessels.

Available types of lifejackets

What type of lifejacket do I need to wear?

Find the right lifejacket style for your activity.

Lifejacket standards

What is the current Australian standard for lifejackets?

The latest standard for lifejackets is AS 4758 You shouldn’t assume that Level 50, 100 and l 150+ lifejackets made to other standards are compliant with AS 4758.

Do retailers need to only sell Lifejackets made to AS 4758?

No. Retailers can still sell lifejackets made to the old standards. Lifejackets made to the old standards will still be recognised for many years.

What does the standard cover?

The standard AS 4758 now describes lifejackets as Level 275, 150, 100, 50, 50S, 25, and Restricted Use Lifejackets. The number of each level relates to the newtons of buoyancy that each lifejacket provides with each suitable for different activities and conditions:

  1. Level 275 lifejackets are intended primarily for offshore use and by people who are carrying significant additional weights (such as tools and equipment) and thus require extra buoyancy.
  2. Level 275 lifejackets are of value to those who are wearing clothing which traps air and which may adversely affect the self-righting capacity of the lifejacket. Level 275 lifejackets are designed to assist the wearer to float in a face-up position with the mouth and nose clear of the surface.
  3. Level 150 lifejackets are intended for general and offshore use. Level 150 lifejackets are designed to assist in turning an unconscious person into a face-up position.
  4. Level 100 lifejackets are the minimum requirement for coastal use and are intended for general use on water where the shore is in view. Level 150 lifejackets are designed to assist in turning a person into a face-up position.
  5. Level 50 lifejackets are intended for use by those who are able swimmers and who are near to a bank or shore, or who have help and a means of rescue close at hand. Level 50 lifejackets are not designed to assist in turning the wearer into a face-up position. Level 50 lifejackets require active participation by the wearer.
  6. Level 50S lifejackets are intended for use by those who are able swimmers and who are near to a bank or shore, or who have help and a means of rescue close at hand. Level 50S lifejackets are not designed to assist in turning the wearer into a face-up position. Level 50S lifejackets require active participation by the wearer and can be of any colour.
  7. Level 25 lifejackets are designed for use by competent swimmers for specific specialist activities such as sporting and competitive situations and who are near a bank or shore, or who have help and a means of rescue close at hand. Level 25 lifejackets are not designed to assist in turning the wearer into a face-up position. Level 25 lifejackets require active participation by the wearer.
  8. Restricted Use Lifejackets are special purpose devices manufactured for groups such as the military, police, rescue and emergency services and the like for specific needs that go beyond the requirements of the recreational wearer. Restricted Use Lifejackets rely on the specialised skills, knowledge, training and participation of the wearer.

Why the change in terminology?

Standards Australia carried out a review of the Australian Standard covering lifejackets and developed a new standard in 2015 to better align with international standards.

Is there a need to replace existing lifejackets?

No. Lifejackets made to the old standards will still be recognised for many years. A change over date won't be made until there has been thorough consultation.

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Vessel safety equipment

What safety equipment am I required to have on my boat?

SymbolItemEnclosed waters - quantityOpen waters - quantityKiteboard, sailboard, canoe, kayak, off-the-beach vessel in any watersPWC
 Lifejacket symbolLevel 100, 150, 275 or greater that meets AS4758 -1 per person* - -
 Lifejacket symbolLevel 50S, 50 or greater that meets AS47581 per person*-1 per person* to be worn at all times between sunrise and sunset, on open or alpine waters, or when not accompanied by a person <12 years of age1 per person* to be worn at all times
 Lifejacket symbol Level 25 that meets AS4758 - - - -
 Anchor symbolAnchor and chain/line suitable for the vessel and its operations.11 - -
 Buckets symbolBailer/Bucket (vessel with open bilges) or bilge pump (vessels with covered bilges)1**1** - -
 Compass symbolCompass (magnetic)-1 - -
 Smoke flares symbolDistress signal – orange smoke hand-held distress flare-2 - -
 Handheld flares symbolDistress signal – red hand-held distress flare-2 - -
 EPIRB symbolEPIRB – 406MHz (required if two nautical miles or more offshore)-1 - -
 Bucket with lanyard symbolFire bucket (if no bailing bucket carries suitable for fire fighting)11 - -
 Fire extinguisher symbolFire extinguisher of a type suitable for vessel hazards (vessels with electric start, electric motors, gas or fuel stoves)At least 1**At least 1** - -
 Map symbolMap/chart of area (paper not electronic)-1 - -
 Radio symbolMarine radio (required if two nautical miles or more offshore)-1 - -
 Paddles symbolPaddle or oars/rowlocks in vessels under 6m, unless fitted with a second means of propulsion11 - -
 Safety label symbolSafety label11 - -
 Sound signal symbolSound signal (air horn/whistle/bell)11 - -
 V sheet symbolV sheet (orange)-1 - -
 Water bottle symbolWater (suitable for drinking)-2L per person - -
 Torch symbolWaterproof torch (floating)11 - -

* The Marine Safety Regulation 2016 requires lifejackets to be the correct size for the intended wearer, in good condition, and to be  in a visible or marked location with red letters on a white background (or vice versa) when stored, for quick and easy access. Inflatable units must be serviced in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, or at intervals of 12 months or less. Lifejackets must not rely solely on oral inflation for buoyancy. The owner and operator of the vessel must ensure that everyone on board knows the location of all safety equipment.

** Additional bilge pumps and fire extinguishers may be required for larger vessels.

Important: Navigation lights must be displayed between sunset and sunrise, and during times of restricted visibility.

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Modified safety equipment requirements

Crossing a barAll people on board must wear a Level 100 or greater lifejacket.
Children less than 12 years of ageMust wear an appropriate lifejacket if the child is on board any vessel less than 4.8m in length, or in an open area on board a vessel that is less than 8m in length that is underway.
Towing activitiesA person being towed on or over the water by a vessel must wear an appropriate lifejacket at all times.
Master’s DirectionA person must wear an appropriate lifejacket if directed to do so by the master of the vessel.


Vessel Requirements
Vessel under 4.8m in lengthAll people on board must wear a lifejacket between sunset and sunrise, on open and alpine waters, or when not accompanied by another person 12 years of age or more.
Canoes and kayaksExempt from carrying safety equipment on all waters, but hand-held marine radio or mobile phone in waterproof pouch strongly recommended.
SailboardsExempt from carrying safety equipment on all waters.
KiteboardsExempt from carrying safety equipment.
Racing shells, surf rescue boats, surf boats and surf skisExempt from carrying safety equipment if used in connection with lifesaving, surf rescues, a competition or training conducted by a club affiliated with Royal Surf Life Saving Society, Surf Life Saving Australia Limited, or Surf Lifesaving NSW.
Rowboats, dinghies, Small unpowered inflatable boats

Exempt from carrying safety equipment on enclosed waters if the vessel is:

  • less than 3m in length; and
  • not a tender; and
  • not carrying an engine or fuel; and
  • not more than 200m from nearest shore; and
  • operating between sunrise and sunset; and
  • built so as to float if swamped or capsized.
Tenders less than 3mWhen operating in enclosed waters and within 200m of shore, they are exempt from carrying other safety equipment if the vessel carries a paddle or oars, a waterproof torch if operating between sunset and sunrise, a bucket, bailer or bilge pump.
Sailing vessels
  • If less than 6m in length and in enclosed waters, these are not required to carry an anchor.
  • Not required to carry bucket/bailer if it has a permanently enclosed self-draining hull.
  • When engaged in organised sail training, is not required to carry safety equipment if a power driven vessel capable of use for rescue purposes is in attendance.
  • Not required to have a Safety Label.
Off the beach vessels (means an unballasted, sail-only vessel, including centreboard dinghy, windsurfer, skiff or multihull vessel, but not including a vessel with a cabin or a fixed keel)Not required to carry safety equipment if the vessel does not have sufficient storage room.
PWCCannot be operated between sunset and sunrise, except in accordance with an aquatic licence. Must have RMS-approved PWC behaviour and safety labels affixed, clearly visible from the steering position, and in good condition. PWC’s are exempt from carrying safety equipment (except lifejackets). For tow-in surfing the PWC must be equipped with: a rescue sled, second kill switch wrapped around the handlebars, two-way communication device, dive fins, safety knife, tool kit, quick release floating tow rope with a minimum length of 7m, bow tow-line with a minimum length of 7m.

Important: Navigation lights must be displayed between sunset and sunrise, and during times of restricted visibility.

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Lifejacket requirements

How do I determine the length of my vessel?

The length of your vessel means the length of its hull. This includes all structural and integral parts of the craft, such as wooden, plastic or metal stem or sterns, bulwarks and hull/deck joints.

Hull length excludes removable parts that can be detached in a non-destructive manner and without affecting the structural integrity of the craft, like outboard motors, swimming platforms, bowsprits, fittings or attachments. This measure is consistent with the International Standard, Small Craft – Principal Data Standard.

If you’d like more information, see Determining the length of your vessel (pdf).

When do children have to wear a lifejacket?

If you have a child under 12, then they must wear a lifejacket:

  • on a vessel less than 4.8m in length at all times
  • or when in an open area of a vessel less than 8m in length that is underway
  • or when directed to do so by the master of the vessel.

Are lifejackets available for infants (under the age of 1)?

Yes you can get lifejackets that are made for infants. You must, however, make sure they fit properly to be effective. It must fit snugly and securely and not allow the child’s head to slip through the neck hole. Such lifejackets are fitted with a strap between the legs and adjustable chest fasteners to help keep baby in place. Adult lifejackets are not suitable for infants. To make sure a lifejacket is appropriate for your child, you should ask your local marine supplier. Get them to check the lifejacket is adequate for support, comfort and flotation. An infant’s lifejacket should be compliant with a standard accepted by the State Government.

Some infants however are simply too small for these lifejackets. In such cases, parents will need to use their best judgement whether to take the infant or not out in a boat.

To make sure a lifejacket is effective you should always make sure the lifejacket is checked to ensure it is fit for purpose before every use.

Do I need to wear a lifejacket when crossing coastal bars?

Yes. You must wear, a lifejacket level 100 or greater when you’re crossing a coastal bar. This does not apply to a kiteboard, sailboard, canoe, kayak, personal watercraft or off-the-beach vessel.

Special provisions apply for these vessels. You can find out more at "What type of lifejacket do I need to wear"

What lifejacket do my passengers and I have to wear if we’re crossing a coastal bar on a personal watercraft (PWC)?

Riders and passengers of PWC’s must wear a level 50S or greater lifejacket at all times.

What are the requirements for people being towed?

If you’re being towed, you must wear a level 50S or greater in enclosed waters. This applies when you’re waterskiing, wakeboarding, parasailing and also if you’re being towed on a tube or sea biscuit. A level 50 is also recommended for tow-in surfing.

You must also wear an appropriate lifejacket if you are wake boarding or wake surfing from a vessel, even if a tow rope is not being used.

If you’re wearing a ski suit that meets any of the lifejacket standards recognised by Roads and Maritime and you have it fully zipped up and properly fastened, then your ski suit can also double up as your lifejacket. However, if your ski suit doesn’t meet the relevant standard then you must also wear an appropriate lifejacket or wear a lifejacket instead of your ski suit. The same applies if you are wearing your ski suit in the tow vessel when lifejackets are required to be worn.

What are the requirements for off-the-beach sailing vessels?

You must wear a lifejacket level 50S or greater on an off-the-beach sailing vessel when on open or alpine waters, or crossing a coastal bar. A lifejacket level 50S or greater must also be worn at night or when not accompanied on the vessel by another person 12 years of age or more. Children under 12 years of age must wear a lifejacket at all times. Examples of an off-the-beach vessel are a Laser, Hobie cat or similar centreboard, skiff or catamaran boats.

What are the requirements for canoes and kayaks?

You must wear a lifejacket level 50S or greater on a canoe or kayak when on open waters, alpine waters, or crossing a coastal bar. A lifejacket level 50S or greater must also be worn at between sunset and sunrise, or when you are not accompanied on the vessel by another person 12 years of age or more. Children under 12 years of age must wear a lifejacket level 50S or more at all times.

Are the lifejacket requirements different if I am competing in a Yachting Australia or other organisation’s sanctioned event?

If an event is authorised by an aquatic licence issued by Roads and Maritime Services, changes to lifejacket requirements may apply as a condition of the aquatic licence.

Do I have to wear a lifejacket in my tender?

If the tender is less than 4.8m in length, you must wear a lifejacket level 100 or greater when on open waters or when crossing a coastal bar. A lifejacket level 50S or greater must be worn on enclosed or alpine waters. A lifejacket must also be worn between sunset and sunrise, or when you are not accompanied on the vessel by another person 12 years of age or more. Children under 12 years of age must wear a lifejacket at all times.

Do I have to wear a lifejacket on a sailboard or kiteboard

You must wear a lifejacket level 50S or greater on a sailboard or kiteboard, when used on open waters, alpine waters, crossing a coastal bar, between sunset and sunrise, or if you are not accompanied on the vessel by another person 12 years of age or more.

Do the rules apply to school or ‘coach’ boats?


What are the requirements for people wearing wetsuits?

If your wetsuit complies with AS4758 and has the buoyancy required for your location and activity then it will be considered an appropriate lifejacket.

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Lifejacket servicing

How do I service my inflatable lifejacket?

As you can imagine, lifejackets spend a lot of their time in harsh conditions, both under the sun and in saltwater. Because of this, you must make sure your inflatable lifejacket is being serviced properly by following the manufacturer’s instructions. You should also make sure you get your lifejacket serviced at least once a year unless the manufacturer specifies and permits a longer period.

Note: Lifejackets that rely solely on oral inflation for buoyancy are not approved for use in NSW.

Do the “belt bag inflatable” style lifejackets meet regulatory requirements?

Yes they do but you must make sure the waistband buckle is properly secured and marked by the manufacturer as meeting the relevant acceptable standard in NSW.

Where do I get my inflatable lifejacket serviced?

You’ll find most manufacturers service lifejackets themselves or they will have an authorised representative (agents) that service their lifejackets. Most manufacturers have a list of authorised service agents on their websites. If you can’t find this information then get in touch with the place you bought your lifejacket and ask for the contact details of the supplier or manufacturer, or known service agents for the product.

Alternatively, some manufacturers allow you to ‘self-service’ your lifejacket, provided you are competent to do so and follow their instructions.

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What’s the right speed for towing?

The speed you travel depends on the type of towing you’re doing. When you’re towing tube riders, you should aim for a slower speed. Remember, tube riders can’t steer and have little or no control over their direction. If you travel too fast, the tube will slide or whip out when you turn, and could collide with banks, trees or other hazards.

Can I get one-size-fits-all wakeboarding and waterskiing gear?

Skis and wakeboards are designed to suit specific body types and skill levels. You should have equipment that suits your size and your ability. Your helmet, gloves and lifejacket should also be the correct size and type. See a specialist retailer. They can outfit you with the correct gear.

Where can I learn new tricks?

The best way to improve your technique is to get a coach. Try your local club or association for help to find a suitable coach.

Can I tow at night if I have lights on my boat?

No, towing is prohibited between sunset and sunrise.

What is teak surfing?

Teak surfing is when you’re being pulled through the water while you’re holding onto the swim platform of a boat. Fatalities have occurred due to this practice where people are exposed to high levels of exhaust fumes that can collect near the transom. Teak surfing is prohibited at all times.

What lifejacket should I choose?

Level 50 lifejackets are suitable when you’re boating in sheltered, enclosed or inland waters, and for tow sports. They come in high-vis colours and are made for comfort. Level 50S lifejackets are mainly used for wakeboarding and waterskiing where comfort and style are important. They don’t have to be hi-vis.

How many people can I tow?

The maximum number of people you can tow at one time is three.

Do I need a licence?

If you’re driving a powered boat at 10 knots or more, which is about a good jogging speed, then you need a general boat licence.

Does the observer need a licence?

If you’re an observer, you must be 16 years or older or hold a general boat driving licence or personal watercraft licence.

What are the distances off?

The vessel and person being towed must be at least 60m from swimmers or dive flags on the surface of the water. A vessel travelling at 6 knots or more and the person being towed must maintain a distance of at least 30m from vessels, land and structures.

If it is not practicable to maintain these distances, you must maintain a safe distance and speed.

If you’re the person being towed, you must be at least 7m from the boat.

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Offshore boating safety

What are the requirements regarding EPIRBs?

An EPIRB gives Search and Rescue a great degree of accuracy should you ever need to activate it in the event of an emergency. You must get it registered with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. EPIRB’s carry a unique identification code that they transmit when the beacon is activated. This code provides vital information unique to the registered boat and its owner. This ensures a faster and more effective search and rescue response.

While your EPIRB should be easily accessible, it also needs to be stowed to avoid inadvertent activation. Make sure you don’t stow the EPIRB in the bottom of a locker.

You can find more information from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority website.

Can anyone enrol for safety and sea survival training courses?

The short answer is yes. When it comes to recreational boating, sea survival training is only mandatory for a percentage of crew members in major offshore yacht races. Even so, the courses that have been developed are highly recommended for anyone planning to go offshore, including cruising sailors and powerboat crews.

TAFE and Oten offer a Certificate 1 in Maritime Operations (General Purpose Hand) that covers WHS, sea survival skills, firefighting while underway, routine maintenance, lookout duties, and seamanship. The course is a combination of practical and theoretical components held on-water, at fire-fighting training facilities, and in classrooms. Although it is an entry-level commercial qualification it is very comprehensive and relevant for recreational vessel use.

Yachting Australia has developed a Safety and Sea Survival Course, which includes both practical and theoretical training. The course is taught by Yachting Australia qualified instructors at YA recognised teaching centres nationwide. It aims to help offshore skippers and crews in developing awareness of respective responsibilities; to offer and discuss practical strategies for coping with emergencies at sea; and to familiarise skippers and crews with safety and emergency equipment, its purpose, deployment, and use.

You can find more information at Yachting Australia's website.

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Personal Watercraft (PWC)

Why are Personal Watercrafts treated differently to normal powerboats?

A personal watercraft is unlike most powerboats because they have fully enclosed hulls, they do not retain water taken on if it capsizes, and they are designed to be operated by a person standing, sitting astride or kneeling, but not seated. They also do not have a skeg and prop, which can help slow down a normal powerboat which also limits a normal powerboat to a certain depth of water.

Like a boat, a PWC has no braking mechanism, it coasts to a stop. A PWC differs to most boats because PWC do not have a conventional external propeller and rudder system - they are powered by a directional water jet drive unit. This means that when there is no water-jet thrust, a PWC has no ability to manoeuvre. If the rider falls off when the PWC is on the plane, the PWC will remain on the plane longer than a traditional vessel and will have little to no steering capability.

What offences can PWC riders be infringed for?

Offences can include reckless, dangerous and negligent behaviour, excessive wash, operating a vessel in a menacing manner, operating an unregistered vessel, distance off, operating a vessel in an irregular manner, damage to property and not wearing a lifejacket.

What are the consequences if PWC riders are found to be speeding, riding irregularly or intimidating other waterway users?

PWC riders displaying unsafe, anti-social and hoon behaviour can lose their licence, their jet ski, and could pay a heavy fine.

Where does the money go from the fines?

It’s invested in to community and education, and compliance programs.

Where are the PWC Exclusion Zones in NSW?

You are not permitted to ride a PWC in the waters of Port Jackson and Sydney Harbour at any time because these are PWC Exclusion Zones. It also includes the waters of all tidal bays, rivers and their tributaries connected or leading to Sydney Harbour, bounded by high-water mark and lying to the west of a line commencing at the southernmost point of North Head and running to the northernmost point of South Head.

Where are the PWC Restriction Zones in NSW?

You are not permitted to ride a PWC for 'irregular driving' within 200 metres of a river bank or shore when you're in the Restriction Zones in NSW which include the waters (including any tributaries) of:

Avoca Lake, Botany Bay, Brisbane Water, Broken Bay, Bulbararing Lagoon, Cockrone Lagoon, Cooks River, Dee Why Lagoon, Georges River, Hawkesbury River, Manly Reservoir, Manly Lagoon, Narrabeen Lakes, Nepean River, Port Hacking, Prospect Reservoir, Terrigal Lagoon, Wamberal Lagoon and Woronora River (but does not include any open waters).

What is 'irregular driving'?

Is when you drive a PWC in a circle, weave, divert, surf down or jump across any swell wave or wash You should operate a PWC generally in a straight line within 200 metres of the shoreline.

How can PWC riders be considerate of other waterway users and the community?

If you’re riding a PWC, you should always be considerate, particularly when it’s early in the morning as noise travels a long distance in calm conditions. Also be mindful that sound travels further over water impacting residential areas. Avoid riding your PWC continuously near residential, swimming, picnic or recreation areas and if you have no option, think about the safe distance required to make a controlled stop at the speed you are travelling at. In addition, be considerate of environmentally sensitive areas such as sea grass beds, and near wildlife.