Oceans and lakes can be dangerous places, and with boating such a popular activity in Australia, you’ll need to reach a high level of boat safety to keep yourself safe. This means having the right boat safety equipment, understanding the boat rules in Queensland, and being able to understand weather forecasts, warnings, and tides. You’ll also need to follow some effective boating safety tips, and use your common sense if you’re worried that things look pear-shaped.
In this article, we’ll provide an overview of boat safety in Australia, so that you can confidently go out on the water without any stress.
Table of contents
Boat safety equipment
Boat safety equipment in Australia varies from state to state. Check out this article to review the full list of equipment for your state.
Here are the most common types of boat safety equipment that tend to be mandatory between states. But please check the full list of boat safety equipment for your state to keep yourself safe and within the law.
- Paddles, oars, or rowlocks
- Fire fighting equipment
- Signalling device (e.g. torch)
- Bucket with lanyard
As with boat safety equipment, every Australian state has its own boating rules, including Queensland. To get the full picture, we recommend visiting Queensland’s Boating page, which covers everything you need to know.
Here is a selection of some important boat safety equipment that you need for QLD.
Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)
EPIRBs send your location to emergency services. Image from Freddy’s
EPIRBs are a critical little gadget that transmits your location to emergency services when you’re in danger. If you’re boating in Queensland waters that are partially smooth or rougher, you must have one of these devices. They cost around $200.
A level 100 lifejacket. Image from BCF
Lifejackets are mandatory for every powered boat in Queensland, but their “level” varies depending on the type of water you’re on. The QLD government outlines the exact rules on this page, which we highly recommend reading. But here’s an overview of what is required:
- Smooth waters: lifejacket level 50 “special purpose,” or level 50S
- Partially smooth waters: lifejacket level 50
- Open waters: lifejacket level 100, 150, or 275
Safety flare. Image from IKAROS
Distress signals draw attention to nearby boats or planes when you’re in trouble. They include flares, v-sheets (large sheets with V on them), equipment that sends an SOS, and more. Flares are reserved for more serious situations compared to v-sheets, and the most serious distress signal of us is sent on your EPIRB, at which point an emergency rescue team will be mobilised.
Unless you enjoy battling 5-metre waves that threaten to capsize you, checking the weather is an absolute must before you go out on the water. Here’s what you must pay attention to before doing so.
The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) issues marine and weather warnings that can help you to avoid a boating catastrophe. You can find them here:
The last thing you want to see when on your boat
Australian weather can change quickly. It can quickly become stormy, foggy, or extremely hot, so you’ll need to keep an eye on the weather to prepare yourself. These are the main weather events that can quickly change things while you’re on your boat:
- Tropical cyclones—high winds, gargantuan waves, and torrential rain will accompany these.
- Monsoons—as with cyclones, monsoons produce tons of rain and intense winds, and are incredibly dangerous if you’re boating through one.
- Thunderstorms—these are common in Australia (especially tropical Queensland), and can form quickly. They’ll produce heavy rain, lightning, and sometimes hail.
- East coast lows—intense low-pressure systems that can produce heavy rainfall, gale-force winds, and huge storm surges.
- Cold fronts—these can create heavy rain, thunderstorms, and high winds.
- Sea fog—this makes navigation incredibly difficult.
- Waterspouts—spinning columns of water and air, much like a tornado. These can be extremely dangerous for boats.
Wind produces high waves and swell, and if intense enough, can make boating dangerous. Five-knot winds are ideal for boating, ten-knot winds create a choppy surface that becomes hazardous, and 15-knot winds or more create perilous conditions that should only be navigated by the biggest of boats.
You can check wind levels on BOM’s interactive MetEye map.
Waves are driven by wind, tides, and currents, and can create dangerous conditions when big enough. They usually originate from intense weather systems such as thunderstorms or cyclones, so before every boating trip, check BOM’s weather and marine warnings to determine if it’s safe.
As with wind speeds, you can also check wave levels on BOM’s interactive MetEye map.
Tides can create strong currents, conceal land, and cover river entrances and sandbars, so you’ll need to know the tide times for your boating trip. BOM has a great in-depth article on tides that is worth a read.
For more information on these weather considerations, check out our article on the ideal boating conditions.
Boating safety tips
Here are our favourite general boating safety tips that you should adhere to when out on the water.
Check safety gear
Checking your safety equipment can help to stave off disaster
Double-check that you’re meeting the safety equipment requirements for your state and that every piece of equipment is in good working condition. The last thing you want is a lifejacket with a hole in it.
If you’re boating at night, you should also check that your electronics are working properly, such as navigation lights, anchor lights, and your GPS.
Check the weather
As detailed above, check BOM’s weather and marine warnings to see if your local area is affected by adverse weather. Also, look out the window for a trusty eyeball test.
Slow down when passing boats
Busy periods increase the chances of an accident, so do the right thing and slow down when passing boats (either anchored or mobile). This keeps everyone nice and safe.
For more information on each of these tips, check out our article on common boat safety advice.