Aquatic event licences

Unsure if you need an aquatic event licence? Find out what an aquatic event licence is, when you need one and the responsibilities of licence holders.

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What is an aquatic event licence?

To hold an event on NSW waterways you need to get an aquatic event licence from Transport for NSW.

You can apply for an aquatic event licence online.

An aquatic event licence may cover:

  • the conduct of one or more aquatic activities by the licence holder
  • the conduct of an aquatic activity on more than one occasion
  • the exclusive use of an area of navigable water for the conduct of an aquatic activity.

Duration: An aquatic event licence limits you to 14 consecutive days of access to the waterway for each activity. But Transport may issue you an aquatic licence that covers a period of up to one year. This is possible if you regularly hold similar events that last more than 14 consecutive days.

Penalties: Conducting an activity without an aquatic event licence or breaching the conditions of your aquatic event licence could lead to a maximum penalty of $11,000. You could also face further litigation.

When you need an aquatic event licence

You need an aquatic event licence for certain organised activities that use navigable waters.

This could include:

  • a race, competition or exhibition
  • any activity that restricts the availability of waterways for normal public use
  • aquatic fun days and festivals
  • public entertainment events
  • fireworks displays
  • media launches
  • filming activity on navigable waters
  • training events (such as those conducted by emergency or rescue organisations)
  • activities involving aircraft landing (other than routine landing of sea planes)
  • any activity that may affect the navigation of trading vessels
  • any activity that may pose danger to vessel operators and the public on board.

If you're organising any such events you must apply for an aquatic event licence.

You will be advised in writing of the outcome of your application.

If approved, any special conditions will be outlined on the licence certificate you receive.

If an application is not approved within 60 days, this is a refusal. You may request an internal review of a refusal.

If your application is approved with conditions, you may also request a review.

For more information refer to Rights to reasons and review notice: Marine safety licences (PDF, 65.57 KB).

Please contact Transport on 13 12 36 if you’re unsure if you need a licence for your proposed activity.

When you don't need an aquatic event licence

You don't need an aquatic event licence for activities that don't:

  • restrict waterway availability for normal use by the public or vessel operators
  • cause an increased risk of danger to the public or vessel operators.

If they meet the above criteria, these activities don't need a licence:

  • Activities involving surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, a swimming competition, fishing, or similar.
  • Surf Life Saving NSW and affiliated surf club events open only to their qualified members.
  • Aquatic activities conducted in accordance with a Certificate of Operation for hire and drive vessels.
  • Aquatic events comprised of sailing vessels, providing conditions are met. See Sailing Events Notification System.
  • Trading vessel movements.
  • Activities conducted by Defence Forces, such as training activities. In these cases inform Transport in advance.
  • Any other aquatic activity approved by Transport in writing which follows set conditions.

If you are still unsure if you need an aquatic event licence contact Transport on  13 12 36.

Types of aquatic licences

There are two main types of aquatic licences:

  • non-commercial
  • commercial.

To qualify for a non-commercial aquatic licence, applicants must prove not-for-profit status. This is done on the application. A commercial licence will be issued in all other cases. Both licences use the same application.

There are different fees and costs for the two licence types.

Gratis (without charge) aquatic licences may be issued under a Charitable Organisation exemption.

Exclusive use

Transport may grant exclusive use of a waterway area to an aquatic licence holder.

An aquatic activity will be designated an exclusive use special event if it:

  • involves water skiing or power driven vessels* on enclosed waters.

*power driven vessels other than rescue craft, vessels involved in fishing competitions or vessels conducting a low-speed ‘navigational trial’.

If a single event requires exclusive use of different locations, a separate aquatic licence may be required for each location.

Transport may grant exceptions for applications that would otherwise require exclusive use or multiple exclusive use. This is mainly for more remote or less used waterways where there is a low safety risk.

Transport reserves the right to declare a proposed event an exclusive use event. Any additional costs will be the applicant's responsibility.

A Marine Notice must be published for any event requiring exclusive use.

Navigating an exclusive use zone

If you need to navigate an area where someone else has exclusive use you must get permission from an authorised officer.

If you don't get prior permission you may be asked to move the vessel out of the exclusion zone, or stop operating it.


Transport recommends that aquatic licencees hold a public liability policy that covers the event. For some higher risk events Transport may require the applicant name Transport on the policy as a covered party. For more information contact Transport on  13 12 36.

It’s a condition of the aquatic licence that the licencee:

  • advise all participants whether they’re covered by your insurance
  • provide details of the coverage prior to participation
  • provide written warning of the risks of the activity or event to all participants
  • obtain a signed acknowledgement of these risks from each participant.

This can all be done on the event entry or application forms.


All incidents involving serious injury or damage during an event must be reported to Transport within 24 hours. For more information refer to Handling incidents during aquatic events (PDF, 268.29 KB).

If a vessel is involved in an incident you may need to complete a Vessel Incident Report. You can do this online. See Submit Vessel Incident Reports for more.

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