Know the rules
When riding a PWC, it is important to note that the rules and regulations for safe and responsible boating apply. Just like our road rules, these water traffic rules must be observed to help ensure the safety of people in other vessels or enjoying the waterways. Important rules and regulations include:
When approaching head on you should alter course with each vessel steering to starboard (right). When you’re passing, you should do it port to port (left). This applies when you’re boating in both narrow channels and open waters.
When you’re overtaking a vessel, you must keep out of its way and pass safely either side.
When a vessel approaches you from your starboard (right) side, they have right of way. So you should give way.
When it comes to sailing vessels, canoes and other passive craft, you should always give way.
No matter what vessel you’re in, you must always travel at a safe speed. A safe speed is one where you can stop the vessel in time to avoid any sudden danger. To gauge a safe speed, you need to take a number of factors into account. These are visibility, other vessels, navigation hazards, wind, waves and currents, along with the manoeuvrability of your vessel. For your safety and the sake of everyone else using the water, don’t exceed set speed limits.
You should always keep a good lookout, using both your eyes and your ears. You need to be fully aware of the boating environment you’re in, especially in bad weather or restricted visibility. Look all around you – even behind you. You shouldn’t confuse the lookout duties of the driver with those of the observer when a PWC is towing a person. As a driver, you are responsible at all times for keeping a lookout for danger.
If you’re driving a PWC at 10 knots or more, you must keep a minimum distance of:
- 30m from any powered vessel (including other PWC), any riverbank or shore and any structures such as jetties or moorings or if that is not possible a safe distance
- 60m away from people or non-powered vessels (sailing and passive) or if that is not possible a safe distance.
Whether it’s a vessel, person or in fact any object, you should always make sure you keep your vessel at a safe distance. By doing so you reduce the risk of causing damage or injury. When you’re gauging a safe distance, you need to think about a number of safety factors like weather conditions at the time, visibility, speed of your vessel and any obstructions to navigation that may be present.
In some areas, you might be prohibited from operating a PWC or have speed restrictions. These areas may be appropriately marked by signs or notices either in, or in the vicinity of, the area concerned, like the PWC exclusion zone in Gunnamatta Bay (Port Hacking) for example.
This zone encompasses the bays, rivers and other waterways within the Sydney basin area, which lies between Port Hacking, Wamberal and the Blue Mountains. However, it does not include waters off the coast.
- No Go PWC areas
There are some areas where you are not allowed to use a PWC at any time. These areas are indicated by signs.
- After sunset and before sunrise
Riding a PWC between sunset and sunrise is prohibited regardless of whether navigation lights are fitted.
- In a designated swimming area
A designated swimming area in a surf zone is defined as the area extending 500m out from shore between surf patrol flags or signs. In other locations, a swimming area is defined as the area ex tending 60m out from shore between signs for swimmers.
- You must keep clear of marine mammals
It is important that you act safely and responsibly when you’re anywhere near whales, and that you observe the 'distance off' rules.
If you fail to obey exclusion signs, you’ll face a fine of $500 on the spot.
You should be aware that a PWC is not allowed on Sydney Harbour even though signs might not be evident. You can be penalised $500 for a first offence and up to $750 for third and any subsequent offences, for breaches of this PWC Exclusion Zone.
You should know that PWC may be prohibited or have restrictions placed on their speed and/or driving pattern as follows:
- PWC Exclusion Zone
You are strictly prohibited from operating PWC in Sydney Harbour, including the waters of all tidal bays, rivers and their tributaries (includes Parramatta River, Middle Harbour and the Lane Cove River).
- You must not ride in an irregular manner.
You are not permitted to use a PWC for ‘irregular driving’ in (a) a PWC Restriction Zone (see below) or (b) elsewhere within 200m of the shoreline where one or more dwellings are located within 200m of the shore and visible from the water.
Examples of ‘irregular driving’ are:
- Driving in a circle or other pattern.
- Weaving or diverting.
- Surfing down or jumping over or across any swell, wave or wash.
This means that you should operate a PWC generally in a straight line within 200m of the shoreline.
You should be aware that ‘irregular driving’ does not apply when a PWC is towing a waterskier or aquaplaner. However, as soon as you finish your towing activity, then you should follow the ‘no irregular driving’ rule.