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Offences on NSW waterways

Know the rules so you can stay safe and enjoy your day on the water. 

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The information given on this page is a guide only and is subject to change at any time without notice.

Staying safe

To keep everyone safe on your vessel, be aware of common offences and penalties.

Offences include speeding, drink driving, anti-social behaviour and overloading a vessel.

Penalties include fines and vessel impoundment, and suspension or cancellation of a licence.

Transport for NSW and NSW Police can detect offences using cameras, breath testing and drug testing.

To avoid committing an offence, stay up to date with safety and rules. Learn about local conditions and signs when using waterways

Serious and repeat offences

Serious offences include dangerous behaviour and negligent navigation.

Penalties for serious offences include:

  • The vessel involved in the offence may be seized and impounded by an authorised officer (Transport for NSW, Harbour Master or NSW Police)
  • The vessel may be forfeited from the owner under certain circumstances.
  • Serious or repeat offences under the marine legislation may result in cancellation, suspension or disqualification of your boat driving licence, and may also result in a court attendance notice and court proceedings.

If the owner wasn't operating the vessel at the time of the offence:

  • the owner must nominate the operator at that time
  • the offence may still be recorded against the vessel, resulting in seizure or impoundment.

Alcohol and drug offences

Driving a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs is an offence.

A designated driver (skipper) must remain under the legal limit when out on the water in case you need to move your vessel.

See Alcohol limits when driving a vessel for information on legal limits.

It’s an offence for a vessel master to let another person operate a vessel if they believe they might be under the influence of alcohol or another drug.

Random breath and drug tests

As a vessel operator, you may be given a Random breath test (RBT) and random drug test (RDT) while the vessel is under way. This includes when the vessel is drifting.

RBT and RDT do not apply when a vessel is moored, berthed or at anchor. Being caught over the legal limit may lead to a court attendance notice.

Naval vessel related offences

For safety reasons, people are prohibited from

  • climbing a naval vessel
  • attaching themselves, or helping another person attach themselves, to a naval vessel.

See Keeping a safe distance on NSW waterways for the distances you must maintain from naval vessels.

Other offences

A boat driving licence may be suspended or cancelled:

  • after a conviction for negligent and/or dangerous navigation
  • for operating a vessel in a menacing manner
  • after committing an alcohol or drug offence
  • for causing a nuisance or overloading
  • if it's believed the licence holder is not a ‘fit and proper’ person to hold the licence -for instance, for repeat offences
  • for repeat safety offences.

Registration of a vessel may be suspended or cancelled if the vessel is:

  • unsafe or unseaworthy
  • found not to be a true vessel, and is being used as a wharf or pontoon
  • deemed environmentally hazardous.

Camera-recorded offences

To detect offences on NSW waterways, specialised camera recording equipment is sometimes used. The marine legislation allows for this.

If the cameras detect an offence:

  • An authorised officer can issue a penalty or court attendance notice to the vessel owner.
  • If the owner wasn't operating the vessel, the owner must nominate the operator at the time of the offence. The offence is still recorded against the vessel. This may lead to impounding or seizure of the vessel.

Body-Worn Video Camera Trial

Transport for NSW officers are trialling Body-Worn Video Cameras (BWVC).

These improve officer safety, and help gather evidence into breaches of marine law.

When worn by a Transport officer, the cameras are clearly visible to the public. A consent to record is required before use.

Each recording is safely stored in a secure data management system. The recording is only kept as long as necessary.

To apply for a copy of the recording, email maritimecompliance@transport.nsw.gov.au.

Alternatively, follow the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA) process.

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