Have you ever encountered a skipper who doesn’t seem to know what they’re doing, or raised an eyebrow while the fool in the other vessel disregards the safety of others on the water? How often have you questioned whether someone found their boat licence in a cornflakes box and wanted to toss a recreational boating safety handbook at them …
Or maybe, just sometimes, that person is you?
While the majority of boaters have a solid grasp of the ‘road rules’ and their boat, a small group seems oblivious to the risk they’re taking when they ignore the very rules that are meant to keep them safe. And, with more large and powerful pleasurecraft available than ever before, some jump right in at the deep end with little or no experience and without much of a clue about what could go wrong.
But, we hear you say, doesn’t everyone learn about boating safety and how to handle a boat or PWC in the lead up to getting a marine licence? Well, yes …
However (and setting aside the Northern Territory and New Zealand as they don’t require a marine licence and don’t otherwise assess boaters’ skills), while applicants are tested on their theory knowledge prior to being issued a licence, some we’ve spoken to in the industry say those assessments are too lax and don’t necessarily equip a boat operator with all the practical knowledge needed to safely operate a boat on what are becoming increasingly crowded waterways.
Questions have also been raised about the level of skills assessment – some states don’t require a practical test at all (Vic, WA, SA) and those that do (NSW, Qld, Tas) require just a quick demonstration of a few basic manoeuvres and skills in relatively benign conditions close to shore. And there are considerable discrepancies between both theoretical and practical courses, despite the marine authorities endeavouring to achieve a uniform approach by accrediting course providers.
The implications of insufficiently skilled boat operators being on the water, especially in busy waterways and on sometimes very powerful craft, are obvious. Whether we’re talking jetskis or large cruisers, unskilled or marginally skilled operators pose obvious risks to themselves, their crews and those around them.
When Club Marine CEO Simon McLean voiced in his April/May 2017 column that more focus on boat licensing and skills training and testing may be needed, and invited readers to email their thoughts, the responses from industry and Club Marine members came in thick and fast.
The feedback was varied – from strident calls for more training and tighter licence testing, to loosening the bureaucratic grip on boaters and relying on self-regulation. The consensus, however, seems to be a general openness to look more closely at how training and licensing is regulated, and that all boaters – no matter the size of vessel or where they boat – need to learn how to operate their craft safely before heading out, and should continually add to their skills (which, we’d like to add, seems to be what the average boatie does of their own accord).
According to Peter Corcoran, Director at Maritime Safety Victoria, in his June/July 2017 Guest Editorial, of the 1311 reported recreational boating incidents that occurred in Victorian waters last year (2015/16), there were 46 capsizes, 15 collisions, 7 fires/explosions, 72 groundings, 31 boaters in difficulties and 12 persons overboard. He says that while these numbers may seem small relative to 193,000 registered vessels and 407,000 licence holders, incidents are significantly under-reported, with recent analysis of hospital emergency department data suggesting that serious injuries to boaters are about 10 times the number actually reported.
Club Marine’s insurance claims statistics seem to substantiate this – the vast majority of claims are the result of impact while, by comparison, just one in every 10 claims are caused by weather incidents (even including Cyclone Debbie this year). While one could argue that even a well-versed old salt might bump into a submerged object or be involved in a collision, opinions vary greatly on whether incidents can be avoided altogether with better training and more experience.
Corcoran, along with others in the industry, also says that in regards to maritime safety, in particular licensing, there is much to learn from other jurisdictions as well as from motor vehicle and motorcycle schemes – in particular their approaches to licensing schemes with a focus on graduated learning, skill acquisition and the building of competency.
With the discussion continuing on how much training is realistic and what it would take to achieve significant reductions in the toll, we’d like to hear from our readers – what are your thoughts as boat owners and operators? What would you like to see changed, or are you happy with how things are handled in your state? What do you think can be done to reduce the likelihood of incidents occurring in the first place, and do you see a correlation between skills training/testing and a boating incident you or someone you know were involved in?
Feel free to email your thoughts to: CEO@clubmarine.com.au.
Meanwhile, here’s a state-by-state look at who needs a recreational boat licence, and what’s required to get one.
WHO NEEDS A BOAT LICENCE?
With the exception of the Northern Territory, each Australian state requires a recreational boat licence to master a motorised vessel (some states specify a vessel’s minimum length or power) and all states and territories enforce maritime laws.
Australia’s Northern Territory and New Zealand don’t require a boat licence to operate a recreational boat, but laws are enforced and boaters must know the rules before heading out.
In Vic, NSW and WA, the boat’s master must carry a licence when doing anything for which the licence is required. Boaters in NSW can access a digital version of their licence following the recent launch of MyServiceNSW, an app that includes a digital licence and vessel registration service. In Qld, you’ll need proof of identity when boating and can verify your boat licence online. In SA and Tassie, your boat licence must be produced within 48 hours and 14 days, respectively, if you’re asked to do so.
And while WA and SA don’t require an additional licence or endorsement for PWCs, the others do.
Around the country, interstate and overseas marine licences are recognised, as are commercial competencies, but you’ll need to get that state’s recreational licence after a certain period.
And because some licences have an expiry date, be sure to renew it within the renewal period or you may be required to apply for a new one.
On each state’s maritime authority’s website, you’ll find lists of approved training providers, practice tests, study guides, recreational boating safety handbooks, details of how to obtain a recreational marine licence (if it’s mandatory there), and other useful information.
Around Australia and New Zealand, the master of a recreational vessel is required to know and abide by maritime law – in fact, the Maritime Safety Act stipulates that all persons participating in the operation of a recreational or hire and drive vessel (as a master, operator and crew, or passenger), and those being towed, are responsible for their individual and collective safety, and the safety of those in the vicinity of the vessel. It is a legal duty to take ‘reasonable care’ to protect themselves and others from harm, including not intentionally or recklessly exposing others to unnecessary risks.
Of the states that publish a recreational boating safety handbook, or require licence applicants to pass a theory test, all cover the same principles in regards to boating safety:
• Licencing and registration
• Safety equipment, including radio
• Vessel preparation, including maintenance and fit-for-purpose
• Trip planning, including weather, tides, let someone know before you go, road rules, navigation planning, safe speed, proper lookout
• Manoeuvring – how a boat moves and how to steer it
• Safety on water/operating rules, including giving way, safe distances, mooring areas, diving activities, navigation marks and signs (aids to navigation), vessel lights/day shapes/sound signals, boat wash, night safety, big ships vs small boats, alcohol
• Special areas – including open waters, bar crossings, inland waterways, hyperthermia and (depending on the state) alpine waters
• Emergency procedures and messaging, what to do in an emergency
• Boating offences and penalties
• Additional information pertaining to PWC drivers
HERE’S A LOOK AROUND THE COUNTRY … NEW SOUTH WALES
Note: NSW boat licence applies to the ACT.
To operate a powered vessel on NSW waters at a speed of 10 knots or more, people aged 12 years and over need a boat licence. A licence is also needed to drive a PWC.
Tests for both licences are compulsory, but a course isn’t if applicants can prove experience – there are two options: complete practical boating training conducted by a registered training provider, or complete a Boating Licence Practical Logbook (minimum of three trips in a powered vessel with an experienced skipper).
Sit the boat licence knowledge test at any registry, service centre or Government Access Centre (find them online at: service.nsw.gov.au/ service-centre), or with a recognised training provider. Applicants need proof that they meet the requirements, the application form, proof of identity, and the licence fee. PWC licences require two passport photos.
Some restrictions apply for junior boaters aged 12 to 16 years.
Roads and Maritime NSW: rms.nsw.gov.au/maritime/licence/boat-pwc
To operate a motorised boat on Victorian waters, people aged 16 years and over need a marine licence. To drive a PWC, a PWC endorsement is added to the marine licence.
Training or practical assessments are not compulsory, but separate tests for the marine licence and PWC endorsement are.
Courses are provided by accredited training providers, who can conduct the licensing tests after applicants have completed the course. A typical theory course runs over four hours.
Upon passing the test, take the certificate to VicRoads in lieu of sitting the test there and get the licence. If sitting the tests at a VicRoads Customer Service Centre, bring evidence of identity documents, the application form, an eyesight test, and the fees.
Restricted marine licence and restricted PWC endorsement apply for junior boaters aged 12 to 16 years.
Maritime Safety Victoria: transportsafety.vic.gov.au/maritime-safety.
In Queensland, people from 16 years of age need a marine licence to operate a boat that has an engine power of more than 4.5kW. PWCs require a marine licence and a PWC licence.
The compulsory BoatSafe course requires a medical fitness disclosure statement. Upon successful completion of the course, you’ll receive a statement of competency. Training and practical assessment is typically six hours for a group of no more than four students.
To get a marine licence, make an appointment with a transport and motoring customer service centre or QGAP office that provides marine licensing services (find them at: qld.gov.au/transport/contacts/centres/). Bring the application form, proof of identity, BoatSafe statement of competency, and the licence fee.
Queensland Government: qld.gov.au/transport/boating/licences/recreational/
In WA, boaters 14 years and older need a Recreational Skipper’s Ticket (RST) to operate a registerable recreational vessel powered by an engine greater than 6hp. That includes PWCs.
A course is not compulsory, but an assessment is. The assessment is conducted by authorised providers and includes a practical and a theoretical component. It takes around four hours. To make an appointment, applicants first need an eyesight test, a declaration of medical fitness, proof of identity, a letter of consent if younger than 18 years age, and the assessment fee (no fees for the RST).
Restrictions apply for junior boaters from 14 to 16 years of age.
WA Department of Transport: transport.wa.gov.au/imarine/how-to-get-an-rst.asp
South Australians from 16 years of age need a boat operator’s licence (includes PWCs) to operate any type of recreational vessel fitted with an engine, regardless of the size of the boat or its engine, or whether the engine is being used at the time. Operators of kayaks and canoes fitted with an electric motor can apply for an exemption.
A course is not compulsory, but an exam is.
Approved courses are available and typically run over three hours.
SA Customer Service Centres conduct the theory exam. Applicants need proof of age (if under 16) and identity, a medical and eyesight certificate, the exam fee and boat operator’s licence fee. Pass the exam and apply for a licence on the spot.
Special permits for junior boaters between 12 and 16 apply, and they’ll need to pass an additional practical test within six months of passing the theory exam.
SA Government – Boating and Marine: sa.gov.au/topics/boating-and-marine/boat-operators-licences-and-permits/boat-licences
Tasmanians 17 years and older need a motorboat licence to operate a vessel of 4hp or more. To drive a PWC, they need to complete an extra course and test (theory and practical) to get an endorsement on the motorboat licence.
The BoatSafe practical course (conducted by accredited providers) is compulsory, which includes passing the practical competencies. It is followed by a compulsory theory test.
To get a PWC endorsement, complete a PWC Practical Course with Surf Life Saving Tasmania and pass a theory test. Both licences can be obtained on the one course.
Plastic licence cards are no longer automatically issued, but can be obtained from MAST for a fee.
Restricted licences for junior boaters aged 12 to 17 apply.
MAST – Marine and Safety Tasmania: mast.tas.gov.au/recreational/licences-registration
The Northern Territory is the only jurisdiction in Australia where a boat licence isn’t needed to operate a recreational boat. There’s also no requirement to register recreational boats.
However you must know the boat laws in the NT and you may be prosecuted if you don’t obey these laws. Reading the safety guide for recreational boating is recommended before taking to the water.
NT Government: nt.gov.au/marine