Know the law before you leave shore

In Australia, lifejacket laws differ from state to state. Since Victoria's laws were introduced, there have been many lives saved as a result. While we also have one of the lowest rates of boating-related drownings, sadly, every year many boaters drown not wearing a lifejacket.

Lifejacket laws are actively enforced by marine authorities. Penalties apply if occupants are not wearing lifejackets when they are required to do so. Penalities also apply to the owner and masters of vessels, or if there are not enough lifejackets for everyone on board.

In this short video, Andrew Hart and Nick Duigan from popular TV fishing series Hook, Line & Sinker explain Victoria's lifejacket laws: when you need to wear one and what level of buoyancy you need. View the transcript

What lifejackets am I required to carry on my recreational vessel?

It is a legal requirement on all but a few recreational vessels in Victoria to carry an appropriate size and type of lifejacket for each person on board. They must be stored or placed to allow quick and easy access and be in good condition and working order.

In most situations, you and your passengers are required to wear a lifejacket at all times. Use the table below to ensure you know when and where to wear a lifejacket. It won't just save you a fine – it could save your life.

Each lifejacket type must conform to certain Victorian Marine Safety Regulations standards.

Boating activity/Vessel typeSituationClick for waterway definitionsLifejacket options
Power-driven boats up to and including 4.8m in length On coastal and enclosed watersAll persons must wear a Type 1 (Level 100+) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway.
On inland watersAll persons must wear a Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway.
Power-driven boats 4.8m-12m in lengthOn coastal and enclosed watersChildren under 10 years of age must wear a Type 1 (Level 100+) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway.

All persons must wear a Type 1 (Level 100+) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway at the following times of heightened risk:

  • operating alone
  • operating at night (one hour after sunset until one hour before sunrise)
  • crossing an ocean bar
  • crossing Port Phillip Heads
  • boating in restricted visibility
  • when the vessel is disabled
  • the vessel is operating in an area where the Bureau of Meteorology has issued a weather warning of the following kind:
    • a gale warning
    • a storm force wind warning
    • a hurricane force wind warning
    • a severe thunderstorm warning
    • a severe weather warning.
On inland watersChildren under 10 years of age must wear a Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway.

All persons must wear a Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway at the following times of heightened risk:

  • operating alone
  • operating at night (one hour after sunset until one hour before sunrise)
  • boating in restricted visibility
  • when the vessel is disabled
  • the vessel is operating in an area where the Bureau of Meteorology has issued a weather warning of the following kind:
    • a gale warning
    • a storm force wind warning
    • a hurricane force wind warning
    • a severe thunderstorm warning
    • a severe weather warning.
On yachts (of any length)On coastal and enclosed watersChildren under 10 years of age must wear a Type 1 (Level 100+) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway.

All persons must wear a Type 1 (Level 100+) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway at the following times of heightened risk:

  • operating alone
  • operating at night (one hour after sunset until one hour before sunrise)
  • crossing an ocean bar
  • crossing Port Phillip Heads
  • boating in restricted visibility
  • where safety barriers, lifelines, rails, safety harnesses or jacklines are not in use
  • when the vessel is disabled
  • the vessel is operating in an area where the Bureau of Meteorology has issued a weather warning of the following kind:
    • a gale warning
    • a storm force wind warning
    • a hurricane force wind warning
    • a severe thunderstorm warning
    • a severe weather warning.
On inland watersChildren under 10 years of age must wear a Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway.

All persons must wear a Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway at the following times of heightened risk:

  • operating alone
  • operating at night (one hour after sunset until one hour before sunrise)
  • crossing an ocean bar
  • crossing Port Phillip Heads
  • boating in restricted visibility
  • where safety barriers, lifelines, rails, safety harnesses or jacklines are not in use
  • when the vessel is disabled
  • the vessel is operating in an area where the Bureau of Meteorology has issued a weather warning of the following kind:
    • a gale warning
    • a storm force wind warning
    • a hurricane force wind warning
    • a severe thunderstorm warning
    • a severe weather warning.
Canoes and kayaksOn all waterwaysAll persons must wear a Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket at all times when the vessel is underway
Off the beach sailing yacht (e.g. catamaran & centreboard boats)On all waterwaysAll persons must wear a Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket at all times when the vessel is underway
Sailboard/KiteboardWhen more than 400m from the shore of any waterwayAll persons must wear a Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket at all times when the vessel is underway
Stand-up paddleboardWhen more than 400m from the shore of any waterwayAll persons must wear a Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket at all times when the vessel is underway
When being towed (such as water skiing)On all waterwaysAll persons must wear a Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket at all times when the vessel is underway
Personal Water Craft (e.g. Jet Skis or Sea-Doos)On all waterwaysAll persons must wear a Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket at all times when the vessel is underway

Definitions of waterways

The types of lifejacket you must carry and wear depend on the type of waterway you are operating on. The table below provides a detailed definition of the three categories of waterway in Victoria.

TermMeaning
Inland watersRivers (inside the seaward entrance), creeks, canals, lakes, reservoirs and any similar waters either naturally formed or man-made and which are either publicly or privately owned but does not include any navigable rivers, creeks or streams within declared port waters.
Enclosed waters
  1. The declared port waters inside the seaward entrance of the following local ports:
    1. the Port of Apollo Bay
    2. the Port of Anderson Inlet
    3. the Port of Gippsland Lakes
    4. the Port of Snowy River
    5. the Port of Mallacoota
    6. the Port of Port Fairy
  2. The declared port waters of the Port of Barwon Heads upstream of the Barwon Heads–Ocean Grove road bridge
  3. The declared port waters of the Port of Corner inlet and Port Albert east of a line between Port Welshpool shipping pier and Bentley Point (inside the entrances)
  4. The waters of Shallow Inlet
  5. The declared port waters inside the entrance of the Port of Portland
  6. The declared port waters of the Port of Port Phillip
  7. The waters of Western Port landward of its western entrance joined by a straight line drawn between West Head to the southern tip of Seal Rocks to Point Grant and landward of its eastern entrance joined by an imaginary line drawn between Cape Woolamai and Griffith Point as shown on the chart AuS 150 Australia - South Coast – Victoria - Western Port, published by the Australian Hydrographic Service from time to time
  8. The waters between the seaward entrance of Tamboon inlet and the northerly boundary of a straight line drawn between Flanders Track and the creek on the eastern side of the inlet
  9. The waters between the seaward entrance of Wingan Inlet and the northerly boundary of a straight line drawn between Rocky Creek and the bank directly opposite to the west
  10. The waters between the seaward entrance of Sydenham Inlet and the mouth of the Bemm River.
Coastal watersAll waters other than inland waters or enclosed waters.

Penalties

The maximum penalty that may be ordered by a court for failing to carry or wear the legally required lifejackets is 20 penalty units*. The on-the-spot fine - the penalty that is issued most commonly and can be issued by a Transport Safety Officer or Victoria Police - is two penalty units.

* The current value of a penalty unit is $155.46 (as at 1 July 2016), so if an offence carries two penalty units, the total fine is $311 (for fail to wear or carry lifejackets)

Details of all offences can be found in the Marine Safety Regulations 2012 (VIC)

In this short video, Andrew Hart and Nick Duigan from popular Australian TV fishing series Hook, Line & Sinker take a look at the wide range of lifejackets available now, including ones designed specially for children, women and a variety of boating activities like kayaking, kiteboarding, jet skiing and paddle boarding. View the transcript