Being safe on your boat

Boat owners and operators are responsible for the safety of their passengers and must provide safety equipment appropriate to their vessel and prevailing conditions. If you follow the steps on this page your boating trip should be safe and enjoyable.

Before setting out

  • Check the weather forecast and consider staying ashore if warnings are current or the weather appears doubtful. A general rule to follow is 'if in doubt, don't go out'. Consult the Bureau of Meteorology for South Australian Weather.
  • Make sure your boat is seaworthy and drain plugs are tightly inserted.
  • Ensure that a responsible person at home knows:
    • the description of your boat, including registration number
    • the number of passengers with you
    • where you are going
    • your expected time of return or arrival.
  • Check that all the required safety equipment is on board, in good condition and within easy reach.
  • Ensure that you have sufficient supplies of food and water for the trip and some extra in case of an emergency.
  • If the vessel has a marine radio make sure that it is working.
  • Check that the motor is running properly.
  • Make sure you have enough fuel for the return trip plus a margin of at least 50%. It may be calm when you set out but if you return into a head wind or sea your fuel consumption could double.
  • Check fuel lines and connections for leaks. Wipe up any petrol spilt during fuelling and make sure there are no fumes before starting the engine.
  • Check the times of high and low tide before you depart - you don't want to run aground (and access to some boat ramps may be restricted at low tide).
  • Check the area for restrictions and speed limits.

When aboard your boat

  • Load the boat within its design limitations and boat capacity. Most newer vessels are fitted with a compliance plate, Australian builder's plate (ABP) or both - these plates detail the maximum load capacity for the vessel.
  • Allow for rough conditions and distribute the load evenly keeping it as low as possible to maintain the boat's stability.
  • Step aboard as near to the centreline of the boat as possible and hold on to something. Never jump into a boat or pause with one foot on the boat and the other on the shore.
  • Don't let anyone sit on the bow, especially children, as they could easily lose their balance, fall overboard and be seriously injured or killed by the propeller.
  • Avoid standing up in a small boat. If you have to change places with someone, carefully move around opposite sides of the boat so that balance is maintained.

While underway

  • Maintain a good lookout and continually assess the relative position, speed and direction of other vessels in the vicinity.
  • Make sure you know all the navigation rules and take action in plenty of time to avoid a collision. Keep clear of larger vessels that cannot manoeuvre as quickly as you.
  • Always keep to speed restrictions or limits and travel at a safe speed, particularly when visibility is reduced by sun glare, fog or rain, and when it is dark. Remember your boat has no brakes.
  • Keep a constant watch on the weather. If conditions start to deteriorate make sure that everyone on board, including and especially children and others who are not strong swimmers, is wearing a personal flotation device (PFD - often known as a life jacket). Whenever weather starts to turn bad, consider heading inshore or returning to shore.
  • Don't throw your rubbish over the side - take it home and dispose of it responsibly.
  • Don't mix alcohol, drugs and boating.
  • Never anchor in channels.
  • Be wary if you encounter a whale or dolphin. Specific rules apply to vessels operating near these mammals and strict penalties apply for approaching too near a dolphin or whale.
  • If waterskiing follow the special boating rules that apply to this activity.
  • Be wary of effects of carbon monoxide where your vessel is fitted with an engine, generators or fuel burning cooking equipment.

If your boating trip goes wrong

If a boating incident occurs you will need to provide assistance and report the incident. This includes collisions, people falling overboard, a boat being abandoned or engine failure.

A vessel accident or incident must be reported to South Australia Police or an authorised person within 48 hours if it results in:

  • death or injury to any person involved in the incident
  • if damage sustained is estimated to exceed $300.

Related information

On this site

Recreational Boating Safety Handbook

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Page last updated: 13 May 2015