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Key facts—wearing lifejackets and kill switch safety lanyards

We have developed options for changes to the rules for wearing lifejackets and kill switch safety lanyards to improve safety for people travelling on Queensland waters.

In developing these options, we considered recreational boating laws throughout Australia, as well as risk and injury data in Queensland.

Queensland risk and injury data

  • From 2017 to 2021:
    • recreational boating registrations increased by 13,642
    • personal watercraft (commonly called a jet ski) registrations increased by 7,608.
  • On 1 January 2022, there were 274,356 registered vessels in Queensland. Noting this, there were about 5,595 more recreational vessels (4,648 boats and 947 personal watercraft) than would have been expected to have been registered in 2020 and 2021.
  • In March 2022, 166,394 registered vessels were less than 5m in length and 33,950 were registered personal watercraft—a significant increase of 2,048 and 4,429 respectively from the previous year to date.
  • There are several risk factors and heightened dangers shown to impact on-water safety, including:
    • size of boat
    • location and time of day
    • number of people on board
    • safety equipment being carried and its use
    • weather conditions.
  • For safety risks relating to size of boat, recent statistics show small boats under 5m in length are involved in a greater number of reported marine incidents, when compared to boats of other sizes.
  • During 2021, the number of reported marine incidents rose by 41 (from 339 to 380) and collisions between ships increased from 76 to 100, from the previous year. Of these, 11 were fatal incidents that resulted in 13 lives lost—this was higher than the average over the previous 10 years (previous average was 9.5).
  • In 2021, 21 people were reported to have fallen overboard—8 of these lost their lives. All who lost their lives drowned or, having been lost at sea (4 people), are presumed to have drowned. None of those who lost their lives were wearing a lifejacket.
  • Over the 3 years from 2018 and 2020, there were 51 reported incidents around coastal bars in Queensland. Of these, 36 (71%) were reported as a capsizing, swamping, flooding or person overboard incident. These resulted in:
    • 13 injuries
    • 4 serious injuries
    • 1 fatality.
  • Boating at night carries a heightened risk due to lack of visibility of other boats and objects on or below the surface. In 2021, approximately 40% (153) of the reported marine incidents (380) happened between sunset and sunrise on the following day (6pm–9am).
  • Since 2021, several disappearances or confirmed lives lost in Queensland waters involved people who were boating alone in a small open boat, going overboard and not wearing a lifejacket or kill switch safety lanyard.
  • Since 2005, Queensland data shows that a lack of safety lanyard use was a contributing factor in several reported marine incidents (30) that resulted in injury or loss of life. In some cases, the boat is reported to have repeatedly circled and struck the person that had fallen overboard.

Maritime laws throughout Australia for wearing lifejackets and kill switch safety lanyards

We looked at the maritime laws throughout Australia for wearing lifejackets and kill switch safety lanyards, to get a better understanding of how other Australia States and Territories regulate their use. A summary of our findings is provided below and shows how Queensland could potentially improve its rules.

Queensland

Requirements to wear a lifejacket

Lifejackets must be worn by:

  • children aged 1 year or more but less than 12 years on an open boat under 4.8m long while underway
  • all persons when crossing a designated coastal bar on an open boat under 4.8m long
  • all persons on a personal watercraft.

Requirements to wear a kill switch safety lanyard

Kill switch safety lanyard must be worn by:

  • a supervising licence holder when a personal watercraft is being operated by an unlicensed person.

Note: it is strongly recommended that skippers of all boats, but especially tiller-steered boats and personal watercraft, wear a kill switch safety lanyard.

New South Wales

Requirements to wear a lifejacket

Lifejackets must be worn by:

  • children under 12 years of age on all vessels up to 4.8m long, at all times
  • children under 12 years of age in open areas of all vessels up to 8m long, that are underway.

Lifejackets must be worn on powerboats and sailing boats, including tenders and off-the-beach sailing boats, by:

  • all persons on all boats crossing a coastal bar
  • a person boating alone (including with children under 12 years) on a boat up to 4.8m long in enclosed waters at all times
  • all persons on a boat up to 4.8m long in enclosed waters at all times at night
  • all persons on a boat up to 4.8m long in alpine or open waters at all times
  • all persons on a personal watercraft
  • any person instructed to by the skipper of a vessel at times of heightened risk (for example, when in severe weather or when the vessel or passengers are in more danger due to age, health or water conditions).

Lifejackets must be worn on sailboards, kiteboards, canoes, kayaks and rowing vessels by:

  • a person (including with children under 12 years of age) operating the vessel alone or at night in enclosed waters
  • all persons on the vessel in alpine or open waters or crossing coastal bars at all times.

Requirements to wear a kill switch safety lanyard

A spare kill switch safety lanyard wrapped around the handlebar of a personal watercraft must be carried by:

  • a person that is tow-in surfing without an observer on a personal watercraft.

Note: it is strongly recommended that a person operating a powerboat or personal watercraft fitted with a kill switch safety lanyard wear it when the engine is on and in gear.

Victoria

Requirements to wear a lifejacket

Lifejackets must be worn by:

  • all persons on an open area of 1 of following vessels when it is underway:
    • powerboat 4.8m long or less
    • personal watercraft
    • recreational tender
    • off-the-beach sailing yacht
    • stand up paddle board, kiteboard or sailboard operated more than 400m from shore
    • canoe, kayak, rowing boat, raft, pedal boat or funboat
  • children under 10 years of age on an open area of a vessel mentioned above that is underway
  • all persons on an open area of a yacht or power-driven boat between 4.8m and 12m long that is underway at times of heightened risk (for example, when boating alone, at night, crossing a coastal bar or in severe weather).

Requirements to wear a kill switch safety lanyard

A vessel is fit for purpose if the engine kill switches are fitted to the vessel and are operable.

Tasmania

Requirements to wear a lifejacket

Lifejackets must be worn by:

  • all persons in a recreational motor boat or motor-propelled tender under 6m long whilst under power
  • children under 12 years of age in all recreational motor boats or motor-propelled tenders whilst under power
  • all persons in a lightweight craft, which includes:
    • kayaks
    • canoes
    • stand-up paddle boards
    • dinghies (tenders).

Note: A life jacket does not need to be worn within a deckhouse, cabin or secure enclosed space.

Requirements to wear a kill switch safety lanyard

It is recommended that a personal watercraft be fitted with a kill switch safety lanyard that is attached to the operator's wrist or lifejacket.

Northern Territory

Requirements to wear a lifejacket

Lifejackets must be worn by:

  • all persons on a personal watercraft, or sailing boat under 5m long or with permanent closed hulls.

Requirements to wear a kill switch safety lanyard

A kill switch safety lanyard must be worn by:

  • a person on a personal watercraft and be securely attached to the person or their clothing.

A person must not operate a personal watercraft unless it is fitted with a kill switch safety lanyard.

Western Australia

Requirements to wear a lifejacket

Lifejackets must be worn by:

  • a person 12 months of age or more on a personal watercraft.

Note: It is recommended that a person's safety will be enhanced if a lifejacket is worn at all times, or at least:

  • at the first sign of bad weather
  • between sunset and sunrise or during restricted visibility
  • when operating in unfamiliar waters
  • when operating with a following sea
  • when boating alone (this is especially recommended)
  • at all times on children under 10 years
  • if you are a poor swimmer
  • on medication that may affect your balance.

Requirements to wear a kill switch safety lanyard

It is recommended that a kill switch safety lanyard be worn by the skipper of a boat whenever the engine is running.

South Australia

Requirements to wear a lifejacket

Lifejackets must be worn by:

  • all persons on a motor boat 4.8m long or less when underway or at anchor at all times
  • children 12 years of age or less on an open area of a boat 4.8m to 12m long (with or without an engine) that is underway or at anchor
  • all persons on an open area of a boat 4.8m to 12m long (with or without an engine) that is underway or at anchor in circumstances of heightened risk (for example, when boating alone, only with children 12 years or less, at night, at times of restricted visibility, crossing a coastal bar or in severe weather).

Requirements to wear a kill switch safety lanyard

It is recommended that a person on a personal watercraft attach a kill switch safety lanyard to their lifejacket.

Australian Capital Territory

Requirements to wear a lifejacket

Lifejackets must be worn by:

  • a person boating alone (including with children 12 years of age or less) on a boat under 4.8m long
  • all persons on a boat under 4.8m long operating at night or in restricted visibility
  • children under 12 years of age on an open area of a recreational boat under 8m long
  • a person boating alone (including with children 12 years of age or less) on a canoe, kayak, kiteboard, paddleboard, sailboard or surfboard
  • all persons on a canoe, kayak, kiteboard, paddleboard, sailboard or surfboard operating at night.

Requirements to wear a kill switch safety lanyard

No information is provided about recommendations or requirements for wearing a kill switch safety lanyard in the Australian Capital Territory.

Disclaimer on accuracy and completion of information

While reasonable efforts have been made to provide information that is accurate as at 28 September 2022, Maritime Safety Queensland takes no responsibility for the completeness, accuracy or relevance of any information included. It is provided for information purposes only. Information and legislative requirements may change from time to time.

Please contact the relevant Australian maritime authority for up-to-date information about the maritime laws in their respective state or territory.

Lifejacket and safety lanyard reforms

Have your say about our proposed changes for wearing lifejackets and kill switch safety lanyards in Queensland.

Survey closes Friday 23 December

Last updated
29 November 2022