Keeping a proper lookout

Keeping a proper lookout is essential to keeping everyone safe on the water. Here's how to keep a proper lookout at all times.

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Proper lookout

As the skipper, you must keep a proper lookout – by sight and hearing – at all times. This helps you judge your situation and the risk of collision. This is essential to keeping everyone safe on the water.

When keeping a proper lookout, look all around, including behind you. Look out for hazards so you can avoid colliding with people, other vessels, structures, land and animals. Look out for vulnerable groups, including swimmers and divers, and smaller vessels, such as sailboards and kayaks, which can be difficult to see.

Be mindful of noise – such as loud music – that could prevent you from hearing sounds or signals from other vessels or people.

Take extra care at times of restricted visibility, for example, at night (between sunset and sunrise) or in poor weather conditions.

Make sure you're travelling at a safe speed. If you have a radar, use it to keep a lookout. Remember to dim the display at night so you do not lose your night vision.

It's recommended that you have a lookout person. They can alert you if your view is blocked.

For people

Keep a lookout for people in the water, including swimmers, snorkellers, spearfishers and divers. Make sure you keep a safe distance.

Look out for the blue and white 'Alpha' flag. This means divers, snorkellers or spearfishers are in the water nearby. The flag can be attached to a fluorescent buoy, a vessel or a personal float.

Blue and white Alpha flag attached to a buoy
The blue and white 'Alpha' flag can be attached to a fluorescent buoy
Blue and white Alpha flag attached to a vessel
The blue and white 'Alpha' flag can be attached to a vessel

If you're driving a powered vessel, make sure its spinning propellers do not come near anyone. Propeller strikes can cause serious injuries or death.

For other vessels

Keep a lookout for other vessels on the water. This includes small vessels, such as sailboards, kayaks and dinghies, and large vessels, such as ships and ferries.

Take extra care in areas where there are large vessels and high-speed vessels, like Sydney Harbour. Be aware that large vessels travel much faster than they appear to. The situation can become dangerous quickly, even if your vessel is travelling slowly.

In channels and rivers, take care at bends. Look out for vessels coming the other way and keep to starboard (right).

In mooring areas, keep a lookout for mooring lines, as well as moored vessels and dinghies.

At night, look out for navigation lights on other vessels.

Look out for seaplanes on Sydney Harbour, Pittwater and the Hawkesbury River and in tourist locations on the north and south coast. Be aware that they may take off or land near you. Avoid making sudden changes of direction, which might confuse the pilot or obstruct the seaplane's path. When they're on the water, seaplanes must follow the same rules as other powered vessels.

For structures

Keep a lookout for structures, including bridges, jetties and overhead powerlines.

If you're navigating under an overhead crossing, you must follow the signs showing the maximum vessel height (clearance height). Bridge heights on maps are measured at the mean high-water mark. It's recommended that you understand the height level on signs and know the height of your vessel. This includes the mast, anything above the deck and any fishing poles.

Remember that clearance heights vary according to water levels. Allow for higher-than-average tides at certain times of the year. Clearance heights may be lower during floods. Your vessel may need more height when it's not carrying a full load.

For submerged and floating hazards

Submerged hazards include sandbanks and sunken vessels. Fishing equipment – for example, oyster leases, traps and lobster pots – can also be hazards.

Keep a lookout for floating hazards, such as logs and debris. Take extra care at night, as these hazards are unlit.

For aquatic animals

Keep a lookout for animals in the water. This includes whales, seals, dolphins, penguins, turtles and waterbirds. All native mammals, birds and reptiles are protected in NSW. You must avoid harming them – see Protecting marine life.

When towing

Keep a lookout when you're towing a person, for example, a water skier. Both the driver and the observer must keep a lookout.

Before towing, it's recommended that you check the area for any hazards. These include floating debris, sandbars or snags. Take extra care on unfamiliar waterways or in areas that have recently flooded.

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