Offences and penalties

This page outlines the major types of offences relating to boating, and the penalties which apply to the most common offences.

Penalty notices

If an offence such as speeding is committed, authorised officers (Roads and Maritime Services or NSW Police) may issue a penalty notice requiring payment of a penalty within a prescribed period.

Serious offences

Serious or repeat offences under the marine legislation may result in court proceedings after the issue of a court attendance notice. Vessels involved in serious offences may be seized and impounded by an authorised officer (Roads and Maritime Services or NSW Police) and may be forfeited by the owner under certain circumstances.

The marine legislation provides that specialised camera recording equipment can be used to detect a number of serious offences.

Such offences may include menacing behaviour, dangerous, or negligent navigation.

Anti-social behaviour

New legislation introduced in October 2016, targets people who use a vessel in a dangerous, intimidating or threatening way or who drive with excessive speed on our waterways. Vessel operators may be fined or prosecuted and the vessel may be impounded or forfeited. These offences may be detected with specialised cameras and the recorded evidence used in Court.

Impounding

If a person operates a vessel in a manner which menaces another person, or is used in a reckless or dangerous manner they may also be considered to be using it to behave in  serious anti-social activity. A vessel used in an anti-social manner may be seized and impounded for a period of three months.  The owner may have to pay costs associated with seizing and storing the vessel before it can be returned.

The vessel may be impounded regardless of who was operating the vessel at the time. It is the onus of the vessel owner to ensure that their vessel is being operated correctly, even when they are not using it.

Forfeiture

If a vessel is used in an identified anti-social manner for a second or subsequent time within a five year period, the vessel may be forfeited. The vessel can be seized and forfeited on the second anti-social offence even if the two offences were committed by different operators and neither one was the owner.

Camera recorded offences

The marine legislation provides that specialised camera recording equipment can be used to detect a number of serious offences. An authorised officer is able to issue a penalty or court attendance notice for offences caught on camera. The penalty or court attendance notice will be issued to the owner of the vessel. If the owner was not operating the vessel at that time, they will be required to nominate the operator. The offence will still be recorded against the vessel which may lead to impounding or seizure.

Alcohol and drug offences

Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs is an offence. A designated driver (skipper) should remain under the legal limit when out on the water in case you need to move your vessel.

Random breath testing (RBST) and random drug testing (RDT) can be conducted on the operator of a vessel while it is underway, including drifting. RBT and RDT do not apply when a vessel is moored, berthed or at anchor.

Being detected in excess of the permissible concentration of alcohol by way of a breath test may result in NSW Police issuing a court attendance notice.

Permissible concentration of alcohol limits are as follows:

  • Less than 0.02 for commercial vessel operators
  • 0.00 for recreational vessel operators aged under 18 years
  • Less than 0.05 for recreational vessel operators over 18 years.

The operator of a vessel includes:

  • Anyone steering or exercising control over the course or direction of a vessel
  • The observer in a ski boat or personal watercraft
  • A person being towed by a vessel
  • A person supervising the operator of a vessel under 16 years of age.

It is also offence for the master of a vessel to allow another person to operate a vessel if they have reason to believe that the person is under the influence of alcohol or any other drug.

Offences relating to naval vessels

For safety reasons, people are prohibited from climbing, attaching themselves to or helping another person to attach themselves to a naval vessel.

A ‘moving exclusion zone’ has also been introduced for naval vessels while on NSW waters. This zone extends 200 metres from the bow and 60 metres either side of a naval vessel whilst it is underway.

A ‘distance off’ of 60 metres from a naval vessel that is moored, anchored or berthed also applies at all times.

Other offences

A boat driving licence or certificate of competency may be cancelled or suspended in other instances including after a conviction for negligent and/or dangerous navigation, operating a vessel in a menacing manner, an alcohol or drug offence, for causing a nuisance or overloading or if it is believed the holder is not a ‘fit and proper’ person to hold the licence, for instance, for repeat offences.

Registration of a vessel may be cancelled or suspended if the vessel is:

  • Unsafe or unseaworthy
  • Found to be not a true vessel and is being used as a wharf or pontoon
  • Deemed environmentally hazardous.

Penalties

These tables only show examples of the most common offences. They are not exhaustive and therefore do not cover each and every possible offence. These penalties are the on-the-spot penalties, and can be considerably higher if dealt with by a court.

Speeding and other regulatory offences

Offence Penalty notice amount
Disobeying speed sign by <10 knots (vessel) $100
Disobeying speed sign by <10 knots (PWC) $250
Disobeying speed sign by >10 knots (vessel) $250
Disobeying speed sign by > 10 knots (PWC) $500
Disobeying ‘no wash’ sign $500
Disobeying other Roads and Maritime signs $250
Breaching part B or C of the collision regulations (eg failure to keep proper lookout, maintain safe speed or display navigation lights) $250

Vessel handling and management

Offence Penalty notice amount
Operating a vessel negligently or recklessly $500 (recreational)
$1500 (commercial vessel)
Operating a vessel recklessly or in a speed or manner that is dangerous Court attendance notice only
Operating a vessel in a manner that menaces another person Court attendance notice only
Interference with or obstruction of a navigation aid $500
Letting off flares when not in distress $500
Bow riding $250
Causing excessive wash (other than in no wash zone) $250
Breaching ‘distance off’ provisions (vessel) – including towing $100
Breaching ‘distance off’ provisions (PWC) – including towing $250
Overloading a vessel (weight) $500
Overloading a vessel (number of persons) $500
Driving PWC irregularly (in restriction zone or within 200m of dwelling) $250
Obstructing a channel or fairway $250

Licences

Offence Penalty notice amount
Breaching a condition of licence $100
Operate an unregistered vessel $500
Driving a vessel (not PWC)>10 knots unlicensed $250
Driving a PWC unlicensed (1st offence) $500 + disqualification of any boat licence
Drive a PWC unlicensed (2nd or subsequent offence) $750 + disqualification of any boat licence
Driving while disqualified Court attendance notice only
Failure to notify Roads and Maritime of vessel/PWC transfer $100
Not displaying proper registration number $100

Obligations to authority (Roads and Maritime officer, Harbour master (or delegate) or NSW Police)

Offence Penalty notice amount
Failure to produce licence on demand $500
Refusal to allow officer to stop or board vessel when directed $500
Failure to stop vessel when patrol vessel lights activated $500
Refusal to identify self $500
Failure to report accident to Maritime $500
Not complying with safety direction $500

Towing offences

Offence Penalty notice amount
Towing a person at night $250
Towing a person without proper observer (vessel) $250
Towing more than three people at a time $250
Towing a person without a proper observer (PWC) $500

Safety equipment

Offence Penalty notice amount
Failure to carry one item of essential safety equipment (other than a lifejacket) $100
Failure to carry a lifejacket or more than one item of essential safety equipment $250
One item of safety equipment expired or in poor condition (other than a lifejacket) $100
More than one item of safety equipment or a lifejacket expired or in poor condition $250
Not wearing a lifejacket when crossing bar (or master to ensure) $250
Not wearing a lifejacket on PWC $250
Not wearing a lifejacket in other required circumstances of heightened risk (eg night, open or alpine waters, children, boating alone) $250

Other common offences

Offence Penalty notice amount
Polluting waters $7500 (individual) $15000 (company)
Depositing litter $200 (individual) $500 (corporation)
Offensive noise (improper use of siren/bell/whistle) $300
Offensive noise (sound system on vessel) $300
Offensive noise (engine noise) $300
Breach of mooring licence condition (eg not servicing apparatus) $500 + possible cancellation of licence
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