People on board – rules for vessel skippers

As the skipper, you're responsible for the safety of everyone on board. This includes lifejacket wear, vessel loading and passenger behaviour.

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Responsibilities on all vessels

As the skipper, you are responsible for making sure the vessel does not have more people on board than it’s designed to carry. Overloading can cause a vessel to become unstable, which can result in capsize or swamping.

You're also responsible for making sure people on board behave safely. All vessels must carry enough approved lifejackets for everyone. At times of heightened risk, passengers must wear a lifejacket when you tell them to.

On powerboats

You must follow the capacity shown on the Australian Builders Plate (ABP). The capacity is the maximum number of people the boat can carry. The ABP also shows the maximum weight (load), including people and equipment. See Loading your vessel.

Powerboats must also have a safety label.

If your powerboat does not have an ABP, use the table on the back of the safety label. It shows how the capacity is calculated for calm waters:

  • each person aged over 12 (adult) is counted as 90kg (75kg for the person with 15kg for their gear)
  • each child aged between 1 and 12 years is counted as half an adult
  • children aged under 1 year are not counted.

For example, if the capacity is 4 people, this would be the equivalent to 3 people aged over 12 years and 2 children under 12 years.

Although children aged under 1 year are not counted towards the capacity, you must carry lifejackets for them.

Make sure you consider the weight of the equipment you're carrying. For example, if you have diving gear, you may need to take fewer people to avoid overloading.

It's recommended that you reduce the load in poor conditions and on open waters.

On personal watercraft (PWC)

A PWC designed to carry more than 2 people has an Australian Builders Plat (ABP), or similar plate, showing its capacity. Children aged between 1 and 12 years count as an adult on a PWC.

The PWC owner and driver are responsible for making sure the PWC does not have more people on board than it's designed to carry.

On other vessels

The capacity and load for other vessels – for example, sailing vessels, paddlecraft and rowing vessels – are set by the manufacturer. You can find this information on the manufacturer's website or in the printed booklet supplied with the vessel.

Keeping within a powered vessel

Passengers on board a powered vessel (including sailing boats using an engine) must not extend any part of their body beyond the sides or bow while the vessel is underway. This includes:

  • being on the bow in a position that increases the risk of falling overboard ('bow riding')
  • sitting with their legs hanging over the side of vessel
  • sitting on, riding on or hanging onto a swim ladder, swim platform or transom attached to a vessel
  • holding onto the stern while the vessel is underway ('teak surfing').

As well as the passengers themselves, the skipper is also responsible for keeping passengers within the vessel when it's underway.

The exceptions to this rule are when a person is:

  • doing something related to the operation of the vessel – for example, hoisting sails, anchoring, mooring or casting off
  • fishing while the vessel is at anchor, moored or drifting
  • doing something to secure the safety of a person or property.

People must never climb a vessel or attach themselves – or help attach another person – to a vessel without authority or consent. The only exception is in an emergency or to avoid immediate risk of injury or damage.

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