Campaign results: not all boaters towing the line

17 January 2012

A NSW Maritime safety campaign has revealed some boaters in NSW are taking risks when towing water-skiers and wake-boarders.

NSW Maritime Acting General Manager Maritime Operation Trevor Williams said 2838 vessels were checked by Boating Safety Officers during Operation Tow Safe, which ran from 7 to 15 January.

“The majority of skippers were found to be doing the right thing, ensuring their vessels were appropriately maintained and that they had all the required safety equipment for their boat and the environment in which they were operating,” Mr Williams said.

“There were 153 penalty notices (fines) issued during the campaign, which represented an 89.9 per cent statewide compliance rate.”

Overall, 12 penalty notices and an additional 12 formal warnings stemming from towing infringements were issued to boaters over the course of the campaign.

Non-compliance with lifejacket legislation was also a trend across all regions, indicating a need for further education.

“The worst offenders were found to be boating in the Murray/ Inland region, where the compliance rate – when boaters were stopped for random safety checks by Boating Safety Officers – was 82.6 per cent,” Mr Williams said. “Speed and insufficient carriage of safety equipment were the two biggest reasons for people being fined.”

“In terms of towing compliance on the Murray/ Inland, there were three penalty notices issued for towing being conducted with no observer, and three penalty notices for towing more than three people at a time.”

Statewide towing offences included:

  • Sydney region - one fine for no observer when towing using a PWC and one for towing in a no tow zone;
  • Hunter/ Inland – one fine for towing more than three people at a time;
  • Hawkesbury River/ Broken Bay – one fine for towing with no lifejacket and one for towing with no observer;
  • Murray/ Inland – three fines for towing with no observer and three fines for towing more than three people at a time; and
  • South Coast – one fine for towing with no observer.

Mr Williams said it was crucial to remember when towing – whether it be water-skiers, wake-boarders or people on items like inflatable tubes – you must always have an observer in addition to the driver.

“The driver needs a boat licence to drive a boat at more than 10 knots – the equivalent of a reasonable jogging speed,” Mr Williams said.

“The observer must be at least 16 years old, or hold a Young Adult Licence. Failure to have an observer who fits this description can land the skipper of the vessel with a $250 on-the-spot fine, or a maximum of $5500 if the matter goes to court and is upheld.”

“The driver and observer work as a team. The observer is the link between the driver and the skier or boarder – the driver’s job is to keep a good lookout ahead, while the observer (who faces backwards) tells the driver about anything affecting the person(s) being towed – including other vessels coming up from behind.

“Both the driver and observer must not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs – and this applies to the person being towed too.”

Operation Tow Smart compliance rate, penalty notices and formal warnings by region:

  • Sydney region
    • Compliance rate - 93.5 per cent
    • Penalty notices issued – 35
    • Formal warnings issued – 17
  • Hunter/ Inland
    • Compliance rate – 90.7 per cent
    • Penalty notices issued – 22
    • Formal warnings issued – 28
  • Hawkesbury River/ Broken Bay
    • Compliance rate – 87.6 per cent
    • Penalty notices issued – 28
    • Formal warnings issued – 10
  • North Coast
    • Compliance rate – 88.6 per cent
    • Penalty notices issued – 9
    • Formal warnings issued – 22
  • Murray/ Inland
    • Compliance rate – 82.6 per cent
    • Penalty notices issued – 28
    • Formal warnings issued – 33
  • South Coast
    • Compliance rate – 90.2 per cent
    • Penalty notices issued – 31
    • Formal warnings issued – 25

NSW Maritime is part of Roads and Maritime Services.

For more information on towing safety and lifejacket requirements, go to

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