Essential safety equipment for your vessel

Having the right safety equipment and knowing how it works is essential to dealing with unexpected situations or emergencies. Here's what you need.

Equipment you'll need for your vessel type

This is a full list of safety equipment you must carry on powerboats and sailing boats. For other vessels – such as personal watercraft (PWC), canoes, kayaks, sailboards and kiteboards – it's recommended that you also carry this equipment, if possible.

Vessels must carry enough approved lifejackets for everyone on board at all times – even when they do not have to be worn.

Use the Safety equipment checklist to check the minimum safety equipment your vessel must carry.

All safety equipment must be:

  • in good condition and meet appropriate standards or specifications
  • maintained or serviced according to the manufacturer's specifications
  • replaced before the manufacturer's expiry date (if applicable)
  • easy to find and access.

Anchor

An anchor is an important piece of safety equipment that you must carry. You can use it to hold your position against the tide, wind or currents. If you break down, you can use it to stop your boat from drifting onto rocks or breaking waves.

Carry an anchor that's the right size and type for your boat and the sea floor. Sand anchors (Danforth anchors) suit mud or sand and are easy to pull up if they get stuck. Reef anchors (grapnels) suit anchoring on reefs or in rocky areas. Plough anchors suit large, heavier boats in sand and mud, but may get caught on reefs or rocks.

Carry enough anchor line for the depth of water you may need to anchor in. Allow about 3 times as long as the depth of water, plus extra for bad weather or emergencies. The anchor line should include a length of chain to soften the boat's movement and help the anchor dig in. The larger the boat, the more chain you need.

Bailer, bucket or fire bucket

You must carry a minimum of 1 sturdy bailer or bucket with a lanyard attached. It can be metal, thick canvas or plastic.

A bucket is useful for bailing out water and fighting fires. In bad conditions, you can slow down and steady your boat by trailing it from the bow (as a sea anchor) or from the stern (as a drogue).

Bilge pumps

A bilge pump is a pump used to remove water from inside the bottom of a boat.

Boats with covered bilges must be fitted with a manual or powered bilge pump or pumps. They must be:

  • able to drain each compartment of the boat
  • protected by a strainer to stop the pump suction choking.

Compass and chart

Compasses and charts (maps) are navigation aids. They help you plan where you're going and avoid hazards. They also help you determine your exact position, which can be important in an emergency.

On open waters, you must have a compass and a chart. Charts must show navigation features, such as shallows, reefs, hazards and channels. They can be printed or digital.

Transport for NSW (Maritime) produces boating maps for popular NSW waterways. You can order printed copies online.

If you have a digital chart on a laptop or mobile phone, it's recommended that you download a copy before you set off. This is in case you have reception issues on the water. You must be able to show the chart to Transport for NSW (Maritime) authorised officers or police if asked to.

If you have satellite navigation, you must still have a compass. This is to help you get back to shore if the satellite navigation fails or if rain, fog or sea haze hides the land from view.

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)

An EPIRB is an electronic distress beacon used to alert search and rescue services in an emergency.

Once activated, an EPIRB transmits a distress signal for a minimum of 48 hours. This signal can be detected by satellite and aircraft and relayed to a local rescue coordination centre.

An EPIRB must transmit on 406 MHz and conform with Standard AS/NZS 4280.1. You must also register your EPIRB with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

If you're on open waters and more than 2nm from the shore, you must have an EPIRB. Even within 2nm, it's recommended.

It’s recommended that you keep your EPIRB stored to avoid accidentally activating it. If it does go off by mistake, switch it off immediately and contact AMSA online or by phoning 1800 641 792.

When it's stored, your EPIRB should be easy to access (not in the bottom of a locker or another place that's hard to reach).

Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)

A PLB is smaller than an EPIRB. It's designed to be carried on people rather than on the vessel. A PLB does not replace an EPIRB as a mandatory item of safety equipment. It can be carried as an extra safety precaution or when an EPIRB is not mandatory.

Fire extinguishers

If your boat has an electric start, electric engine, battery, gas installation or fuel stove, you must carry a fire extinguisher.

You must carry additional fire extinguishers if you:

  • carry flammable liquids below deck
  • carry LPG or other flammable gas
  • have sleeping accommodation.

Fire extinguishers must be securely fixed in place and easy to find. Recommended places are:

  • steering position
  • galley area
  • engine compartment.

It’s recommended that you buy fire extinguishers and other equipment – such as fire blankets – from an authorised dealer. They can help you get the best equipment for your vessel's needs.

Protect your fire extinguishers from salt water and regularly check that the charge indicator is in the green zone. If it's in the red zone, the extinguisher needs replacing.

Fire extinguishers must be serviced by the manufacturer or an authorised agent before their expiry date (see the manufacturer's instructions).

Flares

A flare is a type of distress signal that you ignite to let people know you're in trouble and to show rescuers where you are. Flares are best used when you believe there's a chance of them being seen.

There are 2 types of flares that you must carry on open waters:

  • orange smoke flares for day use
  • red hand flares for day or night use.

You must carry 2 of each kind. Everyone on board should be able to find and ignite the correct flare, even in total darkness. Keep flares in an accessible, sealed and waterproof container.

Most flares expire after 3 years. You must replace flares before they expire, and dispose of the expired ones safely. See Expired marine flare disposal.

Fresh drinking water

On open waters you must carry 2 litres of fresh drinking water for each person on board.

Marine radios

If you're more than 2nm from the shore on open waters, you must have a marine radio. Even within 2nm, it's recommended.

Marine radios can be used to:

  • make distress calls to other vessels in the area or to shore stations
  • advise shore stations of your itinerary
  • check weather and navigational warnings.

There are 3 types of marine radio:

  • very high frequency (VHF)
  • high frequency (HF)
  • 27 MHz.

VHF and 27 MHz are both 'line of sight' communication, which means they work when you're in sight of the land or other vessels. VHF is recommended over 27 MHz. VHF is more reliable, has a longer range, and is more widely monitored by shore stations and large commercial vessels.

Diagram of VHF marine radio channels

VHF marine radio channels.

HF is for longer range communication. It works even if you're not in sight of the land and suits longer distances on open waters.

To use a VHF or HF radio, you must have a radio operator's certificate. For more information, see Office of Maritime Communications.

A mobile phone does not replace a marine radio. But it can be used in a life-threatening situation if you have reception – call Triple Zero (000). It's recommended that you keep your mobile in a waterproof cover.

Paddles or oars with rowlocks

Paddles or oars with rowlocks must be carried on boats up to 6m long, unless the boat has a second means of propulsion – for example, an engine on a sailing boat, or a second engine on a powerboat.

It's recommended that the second means of propulsion for boats over 6m is a second engine, particularly if travelling long distances.

Safety label

A safety label shows the maximum number of people (capacity) and load you can carry on your boat, as well as other important safety information. Powered vessels (not including sailing boats with engines or PWC) must display a safety label where everyone on board can see it.

The capacity and load are set by the Australian Builders Plate (ABP), the manufacturer, or by the table on the back of the safety label.

You get a safety label when you register your boat or from your nearest service centre.

A safety label shows the maximum number of people you can carry, and other important safety information

A safety label shows the maximum number of people you can carry, and other important safety information.

Sound signal

You must have something to make a sound signal, such as an air horn, whistle or bell. You can use sound signals to attract attention or to let other vessels know what you're doing.

V sheet

A V sheet is a fluorescent orange-red sheet (a minimum of 1.8m x 1.2m) with a large black V printed in the middle. You must carry one on open waters.

You can spread the V sheet over the deck or fly it as a flag to show that you're in trouble.

Keep your V sheet in an accessible, sealed and waterproof container.

V sheet example

The V sheet makes your vessel more visible to other vessels and aircraft.

Waterproof floating torch

You must carry a working, floating waterproof torch. A torch can be used for signalling or working on the engine, or as a navigation light on small vessels.

Keep your torch with spare bulbs and batteries in an accessible, sealed and waterproof container.

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