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Safe speed

A safe speed depends on many factors, such as visibility, your vessel's manoeuvrability and other vessels' movements. Here's how to judge safe speed.

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Judging a safe speed

All vessels must travel at a safe speed at all times. A safe speed gives you enough time to stop or turn your vessel to avoid any sudden danger, such as a collision, injury to people, or damage to things.

Most NSW waterways have no speed limit. However, you must always travel at a safe speed.

A safe speed depends on many variables. These include the conditions, time of day, type of vessel, and your experience driving it. As the skipper, a safe speed is something you must constantly judge and adjust as you travel.

When judging your vessel's speed, you must always consider these circumstances and conditions:

  • visibility – for example, rain, fog, mist, smoke or glare
  • other vessels – on busy waterways and near moored or anchored vessels, commercial vessels displaying special signals, and large vessels that are restricted in their manoeuvrability
  • manoeuvrability of your vessel – in particular the distance it takes to stop or turn. Your manoeuvrability is affected by your speed, the wind and current, and the vessel's design.
  • at night (between sunset and sunrise) – potential hazards may not be lit or easily seen. Background lights on the shore – or even lights on your own vessel – can make it hard to see other vessels.
  • navigation hazards – such as unmarked or unlit hazards, and signs, buoys, marks or lights that have moved or been damaged.
  • shallow water – water depth can vary and change frequently.

In these circumstances or conditions you may need to slow down to travel at a safe speed.

If you drive at a speed that's not safe for the conditions, your licence can be cancelled and your vessel can be taken away.

Speed limits

Some areas do have speed limits. Where there's a speed sign, you must not travel faster than the speed shown on the sign.

Even when there's a speed limit, you must travel at a safe speed at all times. This may mean going slower than the speed limit.

Speed limits are in knots, in the direction shown by arrows on the sign. They are usually 4 or 8 knots, but can also be 6, 10 or 15 knots.

There are also speed limits when towing.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge Transit Zone has a 15 knot speed limit.

Illustration comparing knots to land activities and other speed measurements
Comparing knots to land activities and other speed measurements.

Illustration of 4 knot speed limit sign
Speed limit sign (4 knots is about 7km/h or a fast walking speed).

Illustration of a 6 knot speed limit sign
Speed limit sign (6 knots is about 11km/h or a jogging speed).

Illustration of a 15 knot speed limit sign
Speed limit sign (15 knots is about 28km/h or a fast running speed).
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