Aquatic event licences

This page outlines the circumstances whereby an aquatic licence is required and how to apply for an aquatic licence issued by Roads and Maritime Services.

What is an aquatic licence?

The waterways of NSW are a community resource. Roads and Maritime manages access to these waterways for entities intending to hold organised events on them. Aquatic licences are issued to allow such events to occur.

Aquatic licences are issued under the Marine Safety Act 1998 and benefit the community by promoting the safe and responsible operation of vessels and protecting the safety and amenity of the waterways.

When an aquatic licence is required

An aquatic licence may be required for organised activities on, or in, navigable waters, including:

  • A race, competition or exhibition (whether or not vessels or equipment are involved) that’s conducted, organised or promoted in, or on, any navigable waters
  • Any other activity (whether or not vessels or equipment are involved) that’s conducted, organised or promoted in, or on, any navigable waters that restricts the availability of those waters for normal use by the public.

An aquatic licence may be required for any of the following activities occurring on navigable waters:

  • Aquatic fun days and festivals
  • Public entertainment events
  • Fireworks displays
  • Media launches
  • Filming activity on navigable waters
  • Training events (such as those conducted by NSW State Emergency Service, Fire and Rescue NSW, Marine Rescue NSW or similar organisations)
  • Activities involving the landing of aircraft (other than routine landing of sea planes)
  • Any other activity on navigable waters that Roads and Maritime determines may affect the navigation of any trading vessel or restrict normal use of those waters by members of the public on board vessels or cause any risk of danger to vessel operators. Such activities will be considered by Roads and Maritime on a case-by-case basis.

Please contact Roads and Maritime on 13 12 36 if you’re unsure whether your proposed activity requires an aquatic licence.

What an aquatic licence covers

An aquatic licence may cover:

  • The conduct of one or more aquatic activities by the licence holder
  • The conduct of an aquatic activity on more than one occasion
  • The exclusive use of an area of navigable water for the conduct of an aquatic activity.

Note: Changes to regulations mean that an aquatic licence may only authorise an aquatic activity that is conducted for no more than 14 consecutive days on each occasion, however, Roads and Maritime can still authorise aquatic activities exceeding 14 consecutive days. Please contact Roads and Maritime on 13 12 36 to discuss your application if your activity falls into this category.
Where events of a similar nature are to be conducted on a regular basis and do not last more than 14 consecutive days at any point (eg regular sailing races conducted by a club), a single aquatic licence may be issued that covers a specified period of up to one year.

When an aquatic licence is not required

The following activities do not require an aquatic licence:

  • An aquatic activity comprised of, or involving, the use of surfboards or other similar craft including stand up paddle boards, a swimming competition or a fishing competition, if the conduct of the activity will not restrict the availability of navigable waters for normal use by members of the public or vessel operators, or cause an increased risk of danger to the public or vessel operators. Roads and Maritime may elect to impose conditions on such activities
  • Events conducted by Surf Life Saving NSW and affiliated surf clubs that are open only to qualified members of the body conducting the activity, and that will not restrict the availability of navigable waters for normal use by members of the public or vessel operators, or cause an increased risk of danger to the public or vessel operators
  • Aquatic activities conducted in accordance with a Certificate of Operation for hire and drive vessels under the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessels) National Law Act 2012 (Roads and Maritime should be contacted if exclusive use of any area of a waterway is required)
  • Trading vessel movements
  • Activities conducted by Defence Forces, such as training activities. In such cases, Roads and Maritime should still be informed in advance where practicable.
  • Any other aquatic activity approved by Roads and Maritime in writing, when conducted in accordance with any conditions that are imposed.

Exclusive use

Roads and Maritime may grant 'exclusive use' of an area of waterway to an aquatic licence applicant by declaring a special event under Section 12 of the Marine Safety Act 1998.

Where exclusive use has been granted, a person must not navigate a vessel in the exclusive use area (other than a vessel involved in the aquatic activity or stipulated in the aquatic licence), without the permission of an authorised officer under the marine legislation, such as a Roads and Maritime Boating Safety Officer. If no permission has been sought, an authorised officer may ask the person to move the vessel out of the exclusion zone or to cease operating the vessel.

Under Roads and Maritime policy, any aquatic activity involving water skiing or power driven vessels (other than rescue craft, vessels involved in fishing competitions or vessels conducting a low-speed ‘navigational trial’) on enclosed waters, will be designated an exclusive use special event. Roads and Maritime may grant exceptions on application where documented reasons exist, such as remote location, low safety risk or negligible vessel and swimming traffic.

Additionally, Roads and Maritime reserves the right to declare any proposed event an exclusive use special event, where this is deemed necessary. Any additional costs in such cases will be the responsibility of the applicant.

A Marine Notice must be published in the NSW Government Gazette for any event requiring exclusive use. Roads and Maritime will place this notice on behalf of the applicant. We may also determine that it is appropriate that the Marine Notice be published in local and/or state-wide print media.

Where a single event requires exclusive use of substantially different locations, a separate aquatic licence may be required for each such location.

Exclusive use will not normally be granted on a speculative basis, for example where an applicant wishes to have a choice of locations available on a given day.

The new 2016 Regulation introduces a waterway access fee, which is a new charge to allow an applicant to have exclusive use of public water space for a period of time. The Regulation states this fee is charged at “an appropriate market rate for the exclusive occupation of waters”.

Roads and Maritime is developing a waterway access fee structure that reflects the value of having an exclusive benefit to a waterway space, and will consult with impacted and affected stakeholders to seek feedback on the implementation of the new structure.

Applying for an aquatic licence

An aquatic licence application form can be obtained from the following:

To obtain an aquatic licence, you should submit completed applications, along with the required supporting documentation listed on the form at least six weeks prior to the commencement of your proposed activity.
A complete application includes the following:

  • All relevant sections of the form are completed
  • All relevant documents as per the application checklist are submitted
  • Any additional documentation requested by Roads and Maritime is submitted within the requested timeframe.

If your application relates to a complex or large-scale event, or other activity requiring extensive consultation and consideration, you must liaise with Roads and Maritime ahead of the proposed event date (up to 12 months in some circumstances). Roads and Maritime may refuse to accept an aquatic licence application or refuse to grant an aquatic licence where insufficient time has been allowed for appropriate assessment and community engagement, or where insufficient information has been provided.

Roads and Maritime may, for purposes of community engagement or information gathering, publish or release relevant details of any aquatic licence application.

Download the Aquatic licence application form (pdf).

A template is also available to guide you through the preparation of an Aquatic activity operational plan that must accompany your application:

For guidance on planning a public event, refer to the Events NSW event starter guide.

Proof of identity

An Aquatic Licence must be issued in the name of an individual or a company/organisation as the licence can only be issued to a legal entity. An individual or company/organisation applying for an Aquatic Licence must provide the original or a certified copy of the required document/s listed in Proving your identity to prove legal status.

Please note that an Aquatic Licence cannot be issued to a business name (registered with an ABN) as this is not a legal entity. In these cases the Aquatic Licence will be issued to an individual and the trading as name can be added to the address field if requested.

How aquatic licence applications are determined

When considering whether to approve, approve with conditions or refuse your aquatic licence application, Roads and Maritime will consider public interest, specifically:

  • The safety of people and property
  • The amenity of waterway users, residents and the public
  • The responsible use of the environment
  • Any other factors that affect public interest, such as the impact of an activity on the local community or economy.

You will be advised in writing of the outcome of your application. Where approval is granted, any special conditions will be outlined on the licence certificate you receive.

Refusals

Where an application is not approved within 60 days, this constitutes a refusal under S43 of the Act and the applicant may lodge a request for an internal review of the deemed refusal.

If your application is refused or approved with conditions, you may request an internal review. If the original decision is upheld, you may appeal to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal under Section 42 of the Act.

For more information refer to Rights to reasons and review notice: Marine safety licences which contains further information about an applicant’s rights to reasons, internal review and external review.

Consultation, other approvals and publicity

Before your aquatic licence is granted, you must engage and consult the appropriate community and stakeholder groups. If you, or your agent, are unable to provide evidence of sufficient consultation, Roads and Maritime may decide to do so.

If approval from local councils or other agencies are required for your proposed activity, these approvals should be submitted to Roads and Maritime with your aquatic licence application.

Where exclusive use is granted or where Roads and Maritime deems it necessary, details of any approved aquatic licence must be published in the form of a Marine Notice the NSW Government Gazette, and may also need to be published in local and/or state-wide print media.

Fees and costs

There are two distinct fee structures for aquatic licences – non-commercial and commercial.

Non-commercial aquatic licences are generally issued to not-for-profit organisations and events organised by or sponsored by a government agency. Non-Commercial Aquatic Licences attract a lower application fee and may also attract lower rates for other costs associated with the licence. To qualify for a non-commercial aquatic licence, applicants must produce the following (a commercial licence will be issued in relation to all other applications): 

  • Evidence that the organisation is exempt from income tax, or
  • An Authority to Fundraise under the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991 issued by the NSW Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, or
  • A stamp duty exemption letter issued by the Office of State Revenue, or
  • An endorsement from the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) or the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission as an 'income tax exempt charity' or a 'deductible gift recipient charity‘, or
  • A current Certificate of Incorporation issued by the NSW Office of Fair Trading or its interstate equivalent or ASIC extract (for Incorporated Associations), or
  • For applicants applying on behalf of a government agencies, a letter of authority must be provided as described at Proof of identity.

These requirements are based on the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s User Charges Policy – Whole of government policy for the application of user charges for major and special events.

Events requiring exclusive use may incur additional costs. The new Regulation introduces a waterway access fee, which is a new charge to allow an applicant to have exclusive use of public water space for a period of time. The Regulation states this fee is charged at “an appropriate market rate for the exclusive occupation of waters”.

Roads and Maritime is developing a waterway access fee structure that reflects the value of having an exclusive benefit to a waterway space, and will consult with impacted and affected stakeholders to seek feedback on the implementation of the new structure.

Fees also apply for the attendance of additional Roads and Maritime officers at your aquatic event where the attendance exceeds the number of officers who normally patrol the area. This attendance fee may be waived under certain conditions and at the discretion of Roads and Maritime.

Fees are adjusted annually in accordance with the Consumer Price Index and Roads and Maritime policy. See current fees for aquatic events for more information.

If Roads and Maritime require that you publish a Marine Notice in local and/or state-wide print media, it is your responsibility to bear the cost.

Gratis aquatic licences may be granted at the discretion of Roads and Maritime to:

  • Organisations authorised to collect donations under the Charitable Fundraising Act 1991 or;
  • Organisations endorsed by the Australian Taxation Office or the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission as an 'income tax exempt charity' or a 'deductible gift recipient charity‘, or
  • Organisers of events of significance to the boating community where Roads and Maritime is noted as a sponsor.

Insurance

An aquatic licence is issued on the basis that you expressly and unreservedly indemnify Roads and Maritime from all liability associated with the activity or event and release Roads and Maritime from any actions, of whatsoever nature, that may be instituted in relation to the activity or event. Acceptance of the aquatic licence constitutes irrevocable acceptance of this condition.

It’s a condition of the aquatic licence that you, the licensee, must clearly advise all participants in the activity or event associated with the licence, whether or not they’re covered by your insurance should they sustain injury or loss as a result of participating in the activity or event. Details of such coverage must be provided prior to participation in the activity or event.

Roads and Maritime strongly recommends that as an aquatic licensee, you hold a public liability policy that covers the activity or event, including all participants and damage to any vessels or property associated with the event.

Roads and Maritime may also require for some higher risk events (as a condition of the licence) that the applicant takes out and maintains a public liability insurance policy where Roads and Maritime is named on the policy as a covered party.

It’s also a condition of the licence that you provide a written warning to all participants in relation to the particular risks associated with participating in the activity or event, and obtain a signed acknowledgement of these risks from each participant. This warning and acknowledgement can be included on the event entry or application forms, which should be retained by you.

Requirements for handling incidents during aquatic events

All incidents involving a fatality, serious injury and/or significant damage where such is considered significant having regard to the types of vessels involved (generally over $5,000), must be reported to Roads and Maritime within 24 hours of occurrence using a Vessel Incident Report (VIR) form available on the Roads and Maritime website. For more information refer to Handling incidents during aquatic events.

Penalties

Conducting an activity without an aquatic licence where one is required or contravening the conditions associated with an aquatic licence could render you liable to a maximum court imposed penalty of $11,000 under the Marine Safety Regulation 2016. It could also result in litigation.

Further information

For further information, please visit your local registry or service centre, or contact us on 13 12 36.

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