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Loading your vessel

Here's how to load and board your vessel safely – for all vessel types, waters and weather conditions.

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Understanding your vessel needs

Vessels are designed and built for different purposes. Understanding whether a vessel is the right size and design for you depends on:

  • how many people you want to carry
  • how much equipment you need to carry
  • the provisions and items you want to carry
  • the type of water and the conditions.

Overloading, uneven weight distribution or unexpected movement can cause your vessel to capsize or be swamped, especially in rough conditions. Make sure items are secured and people on board understand the importance of not moving around.

Maximum capacity and load

All vessels have maximum limits for:

For powerboats, you must follow the load and capacity shown on the Australian Builders Plate (ABP) or similar plate, or the safety label.

For personal watercraft (PWC) designed to carry more than 2 people, you must follow the load and capacity shown on the ABP or similar plate.

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

It's recommended that you reduce the load in poor conditions or on open water.

Your licence can be suspended or cancelled for overloading a vessel.

Distribute weight evenly

Always stow heavy items as low as possible in a vessel and check they're secured.

Passengers and load need to be distributed evenly to maintain appropriate freeboard and trim. This means keeping enough distance between the water and the gunwale. Your vessel should be level and balanced.

For example, a heavy load at the rear can cause the stern to sit lower in the water and increase the risk of swamping. This can also create more wash.

Paddlecraft and small boats

Paddlecraft – such as canoes and kayaks – are lightweight and narrow. This can result in poor stability. Take extra care when boarding and avoid putting large or heavy items on board.

When getting on or off a small boat or paddlecraft:

  • Step on board as near the middle as possible, crouch down and hold onto something.
  • Never jump into a vessel or pause with one foot on board and the other foot ashore.
  • When you move around the vessel, keep to the centreline and crouch down to lower your centre of gravity.

Personal watercraft (PWC)

When getting on a PWC in the water, approach from behind. Pull yourself carefully on board and keep your weight centred.

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