Know your boat

Loading your boat


Overloading can contribute to the capsize or swamping of a vessel.

Never load your boat with passengers or cargo beyond its safe carrying capacity. Too many people or too much gear can cause the boat to become unstable, resulting in capsize or swamping.

Always balance the boat to maintain proper trim and use the vessel’s Safety Label or Australian Builder’s Plate to determine the maximum number of persons you can safely carry in calm weather.

Always stow heavy items as low as possible in the boat. Make sure they are secure. Ensure loads are distributed evenly to maintain appropriate freeboard and trim of your vessel.

Going aboard small vessels

When moving onto or off small craft remember:

  • Step aboard as near amidships as practicable, crouch down and hold onto something
  • Never jump into a vessel or pause with one foot aboard and the other foot ashore
  • If you move about in the vessel, keep to the centreline and crouch down to lower your centre of gravity.

Basic boat handling

Setting off

Start your engine, allowing it to warm up before you set off. Untie any mooring ropes from the jetty or wharf, leaving them tied to the boat, coiled and ready for future use. Make sure all ropes are inside the boat and not trailing in the water where they can be caught in the propeller.

Check that the area is clear of traffic before moving away, taking note of any speed limits or ‘no wash’ signs that may be in the area.

Be careful not to create excessive wash when passing people fishing, passive craft or moored boats to avoid rocking them about.

Keep to the right side of the channel and observe all navigation marks and signs.

Hatches and exterior doors

To assist in evacuation during emergencies, hatches must be capable of being opened from both the inside and outside of the vessel (if built after 1/1/1991). All hatches must be unlocked while the vessel is underway.

Slowing down and stopping

Boats don’t have brakes, so give yourself plenty of time to stop. In a powerboat ease off the throttle and move into neutral, using short bursts in reverse gear to slow down and come to a final halt.

Remember, some craft are more difficult to handle when in reverse. You may need an occasional forward boost to gain better control.


When steering a boat with a wheel, get to know the feel of the wheel and the rudder position before you set off.

Using a tiller is simple, though different to a wheel, providing you remember that pushing to the right will make the boat head left and vice versa.

Be patient and plan ahead as the boat will take a few seconds to respond.

Tying up

To keep your boat secure you need to tie up with rope to both the bow and stern. Many mooring sites have bollards or rings to tie up to, choose ones a short distance beyond the bow and/or stern of your boat. Run your ropes about 45 degrees from your boat, loop them back onto the boat and tie securely, but not too tightly.

Be aware of the rise and fall of the tide.

Make sure you know how to use your ropes properly. Keep them coiled, free of knots and ready for use.


Slow down almost to a stop and carry out all your manoeuvres as slowly as possible. Wind and currents should be considered on approach. It is usually easiest to approach the mooring towards the wind or towards the current.

Move your boat very slowly, pointing the bow towards the mooring buoy, then use reverse to stop the boat just before the bow hits the buoy. Put the engine into neutral.


When anchoring, lower the anchor to the bottom and let the vessel go astern until sufficient line is let out. This normally means three times as much line as the depth of water or if the weather deteriorates, increase the ratio to 5:1 or more.

Always anchor by the bow not the stern and never anchor in a channel or where submarine cables are signposted.

Never anchor a small boat, or vessel not equipped for it, by the stern as this is likely to result in swamping and flooding.

You should have a length of chain between the anchor and the anchor line to cushion the vessel’s motion and help the flukes to dig in. The chain also stops the anchor line chafing on the bottom. The bigger the vessel, the more chain you require.

In choosing your anchoring position, you should take into account local tides, possible wind changes and swing room required to keep your vessel away from any other vessels or hazards nearby. These factors are particularly important at crowded anchorages, if you plan to stay overnight or leave your vessel unattended for even a brief period.

If the water is fairly shallow, you may have to periodically adjust the amount of line you have out to allow for changes in depth caused by tides.

Do not anchor in sensitive habitats such as seagrass. Areas of seagrass are usually visible as dark patches on the sea bed. Damage from an individual anchor can potentially set off progressive seagrass loss over a wide area.

Historic shipwrecks are also easily damaged by anchors and anchoring in their vicinity should not be attempted.

Don’t anchor on bomboras, shallow rocks, reefs, banks and shoals.

Common anchoring mistakes include letting the anchor go without securing the line to the boat or getting the line wrapped around a foot.

If you break down, you should attempt to remain in the one location by anchoring, or if conditions make this difficult, setting a sea anchor or drogue.

This diagram shows that sufficient anchor line is normally three times the depth of water, or more in bad weather or strong current.

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