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 lifejacket am I required to wear?

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.

The Marine Safety Act requires that a master of a recreational vessel or a hire and drive vessel must ensure that every person aged less than 10 years old who is on an open area of the vessel wears a lifejacket at all times.

Transport Safety Victoria does not recommend taking infants on board a recreational boat.

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

VESSEL TYPE

COASTAL WATERS

ENCLOSED WATERS

INLAND WATERS

Powerboat up to and including 4.8m in length

 Type 1

Type 1

Type 1, 2 or 3

Powerboat more than 4.8m but not more than 12m in length (at times of heightened risk)

Type 1

Type 1

Type 1, 2 or 3

Personal watercraft

Type 1, 2 or 3

Type 1, 2 or 3

Type 1, 2 or 3

Towed sport

A person who is being towed by a vessel must wear a lifejacket at all times.

Recreational tender

Type 1

Type 1 or 2

Type 1, 2 or 3

Off-the-beach sailing yacht

Type 1 if >2nm from coast, Type 1 or 2 if <2nm from coast

 Type 1 or 2

Type 1 , 2 or 3

Yacht (at times of heightened risk)

Type 1

Type 1 or 2

Type 1,  2 or 3

Kiteboard or sailboard

Type 1, or 2

Type 1, 2 or 3

Type 1, 2 or 3

Canoe, kayak, rowing boat, raft, stand-up paddleboard, pedal boat or fun boat

Type 1, 2 or 3

Type 1, 2 or 3

Type 1, 2 or 3

Please note: A person operating a stand-up paddleboard, kiteboard or sailboard no more than 400m from the shore, is not required to wear a lifejacket.

Scuba or hookah diving equipment (underwater breathing apparatus of a kind that is self-contained (scuba) or is surface supplied)

A person who is wearing, or in the process of donning or removing, diving equipment is not required to wear a lifejacket.

HEIGHTENED RISK

Heightened risk is not only limited to when there is significant likelihood that the vessel may capsize or be swamped by waves or the occupants of the vessel may fall overboard or be forced to enter the water. It also occurs when there is a restriction on the ability to anticipate such an event, such as when a hazard cannot be seen.

The Marine Safety Regulations specify that a vessel will face heightened risk, in the following circumstances:

  • crossing or attempting to cross an ocean bar or operating within a designated hazardous area
  • being operated by a person who is the only person on board the vessel
  • being operated during the period commencing one hour after sunset and ending one hour before sunrise
  • disabled
  • where no safety barriers lifelines, rails, safety harnesses or jacklines are in use on a yacht
  • being operated during a period of restricted visibility
  • operating in an area where a warning, that is current, of the following kind has been issued by the Bureau of Meteorology:
    • gale warning
    • storm force wind warning
    • hurricane force wind warning
    • severe thunderstorm warning
    • severe weather warning.

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.

Term Meaning
Inland waters Rivers (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 waters All 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 can be found on the Department of Justice and Regulation website.

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