Using a vessel commercially

Thinking of using your vessel for commercial purposes, such as boat shares or overnight rental accommodation? Know the rules and regulations.

What counts as a commercial activity?

To use your vessel for commercial, government or research activities, it must meet certain safety standards and requirements. Commercial activities include:

  • sightseeing and charter boats
  • water taxis
  • ferries
  • workboats
  • boat shares or syndicates
  • renting boats for overnight accommodation
  • commercial fishing
  • hire-and-drive vessels.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) regulates commercial vessels under the National System for Domestic Commercial Vessel Safety. This provides a consistent approach to safety for commercial vessel owners, drivers, users and crew.

For a list of activities and exemptions, see Is it a domestic commercial vessel? on the AMSA website.

Certificate of survey

Generally, a commercial vessel must have a certificate of survey. This survey checks the vessel is designed, built, operated and maintained to meet specific National Standards for Commercial Vessels (NSCV) requirements.

A new vessel must have a certificate of survey if it is used for commercial, government or research activities, and:

  • is 12m or longer
  • carries passengers
  • is used beyond enclosed waters, or
  • is otherwise high risk.

All other commercial vessels are exempt, but they must be designed, built and operated to meet specific NSCV requirements or AMSA Exemption 03 conditions. These vessels include personal watercraft (PWC), paddlecraft, and sailing boats up to 7.5m.

See Certificates of survey on the AMSA website.

Certificate of operation

Commercial vessels must have a certificate of operation. Some vessels are exempt if they meet AMSA Exemption 03 conditions. For example, non-passenger PWC, kayaks, and sailing boats for training schools.

A certificate of operation can include one or more commercial vessels. As the vessel owner, you're responsible for identifying and managing your own operational risks. See Certificates of operation on the AMSA website.

Certificate of competency

You must hold a commercial qualification or a certificate of competency to work on a commercial vessel in Australia, for example, as a master, engine driver, mate or coxswain.

To get a certificate of competency, you must:

  • meet minimum sea service requirements
  • complete an approved training and first-aid course
  • meet medical and eyesight standards.

You can get your certificate of competency or commercial qualification at a registered training organisation. See Domestic qualifications on the AMSA website.

You do not need a boat or PWC licence if you hold a certificate of competency as a master, mate or coxswain.

To work on a commercial vessel you must hold a commercial qualification or a certificate of competency.

Hire-and-drive companies

Hire-and-drive companies offer vessels to the public for hire. These vessels can carry up to 12 passengers and include:

  • powerboats up to 24m long, including tinnies
  • sailing boats up to 24m long, including multihulls
  • sailboards and kiteboards
  • houseboats and powerboats with a potential speed of up to 10 knots and fitted with overnight accommodation.

This also includes PWC designed to carry 2 or more people.

To be available for hire, these vessels must have a certificate of operation. This makes sure they are operating at a suitable standard and the company follows appropriate and consistent procedures. See Safety management systems on the AMSA website.

If you hire a vessel, the hire-and-drive company must give you a safety briefing before you use the vessel on NSW waterways.

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