Boat or Personal Watercraft

To drive a powered vessel for recreational purposes on NSW waterways at a speed of 10 knots (18.5 km/h) or more, you need a general boat driving licence. You need a personal watercraft (PWC) driving licence to drive a PWC at any speed.

When is a licence required?

The speed at which you drive your boat will determine whether you need a licence.

If you drive a powered vessel for recreational purposes on NSW waters, at a speed of 10 knots (18.5km/h) or more, you must have a boat driving licence. Ten knots is the speed at which most accelerating boats will start to plane (rise up and skim on top of the water, instead of ploughing through it).

You must have a personal watercraft (PWC) driving licence to drive a PWC at any speed. A PWC is a vessel with a fully enclosed hull that may be driven standing up, lying down, sitting astride or kneeling, and includes jet powered surfboards.

Types of licence

There are two different types of licence:

  • General boat driving licence
  • PWC driving licence

General boat driving licence

This licence permits people aged 12 years and over to drive any vessel (except a PWC) at 10 knots or more.

PWC driving licence

A PWC driving licence is required for people aged 12 years and over to drive a PWC. People who hold a general boat driving licence can upgrade to a PWC driving licence at any time. A PWC driving licence includes a general boat licence. A PWC licence holder is able to operate a vessel with a fully enclosed hull that may be driven standing up, lying down, sitting astride or kneeling, and includes jet powered surfboards.

Licence holders aged from 12 to under 16 years

The holder of a general boat driving licence or PWC driving licence who is aged from 12 to under 16 years of age must not do any of the following:

  • Drive at a speed greater than 20 knots
  • Drive in any race, display, regatta, exhibition or similar operation
  • Drive any vessel, other than a PWC, at a speed of 10 knots or more:
    • Without the holder of a general boat driving licence who is 16 years of age or older being present in the vessel, or
    • Between sunset and sunrise, or
    • While the vessel is towing anyone.
  • Drive a PWC between sunset and sunrise (this rule applies to all PWC driving licence holders)
  • Drive a PWC at a speed of 10 knots or more:
    • Without the holder of a PWC driving licence who is 16 years of age or older being present on the PWC, or
    • While the vessel is towing anyone.

Exceptions may apply in accordance with an aquatic licence.

Applying for a general boat or PWC driving licence

Before you can apply for an initial general boat or PWC driving licence, you’ll need to:

Once you’ve met these requirements, you can apply for a licence by attending a registry or service centre in person and providing:

  • Proof that you meet the requirements
  • A completed licence application form
  • Acceptable proof of identity
  • Payment for the licence fee
  • Young adult applicants must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian who must provide acceptable proof of identity
  • PWC driving licence applicants must also provide two passport acceptable photos.

Licence period

General boat and PWC driving licences are issued for one, three, five or 10 years. LIcences are issued as paper licences, followed by a plastic licence card.

Recognised qualifications

Successful completion of certain Yachting Australia (YA) courses is recognised as satisfying the full requirements, including the practical component, for the issue of a general boating driving licence.

Other qualifications may be recognised. For more information, call 13 77 88.

Exemption of commercial qualifications

If you wish to operate or work on a vessel used for commercial purposes, you must obtain the relevant certificate of competency. See Commercial vessels for more information.

People who hold a certificate of competency as a master, mate or coxswain do not have to hold a general boat licence or PWC licence to drive vessels recreationally.

This exemption does not apply to general purpose hands, masters of vehicular ferries in chains or people who hold engineering certificates (MED).

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