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Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Vessel Traffic Service

The Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Vessel Traffic Service (Reef VTS) monitors vessel traffic in the region to prevent collisions or incidents. The area has high environmental significance and is protected by a range of national and international measures.

Navigating a vessel through this region is challenging because the area:

  • is large and takes a long time to navigate
  • has confined waters with limited depths of water
  • has strong and variable tidal streams
  • is in a monsoon climate with low-visibility during rain squalls
  • can have tropical storms and cyclones
  • has narrow fairways
  • is used by a range of vessel types that have many different flag states and different types of cargo.

About Reef VTS

Reef VTS is a coastal vessel traffic service (VTS) dedicated to the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait region. Townsville has a dedicated 24-hour VTS centre for Reef VTS.

Reef VTS:

  • improves navigational safety in the Torres Strait and inner route of the Great Barrier Reef by giving information to vessels about
    • potential traffic conflicts
    • navigational information
  • lowers the risk of maritime incidents in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait region that may result in
    • ship-sourced pollution
    • damage to the marine environment
  • responds quickly if there are any safety or pollution incidents in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait region.

About Reef VTS video

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Reef VTS vessel master requirements

Vessel masters need to work with the Reef VTS operators to ensure safe operation of vessels in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait region. Masters are expected to make the best use of Reef VTS information and services when making navigational decisions.

Vessels operating in the Reef VTS area should acknowledge information from Reef VTS when asked and must respond quickly to enquiries.

Masters are expected to:

  • adhere to Reef VTS reporting requirements
  • respond to all warnings and advice from Reef VTS 
  • contact Reef VTS if they identify a hazardous situation that may impact on the navigational safety of others.

The master of a vessel is always responsible for the way the vessel is operated and manoeuvred, and its safe navigation under all circumstances.

Functions of Reef VTS

Reef VTS monitors and communicates with vessels for safer navigation throughout the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait.

This is done by maintaining a vessel traffic image of vessels moving through the area. A vessel traffic image, or integrated surface picture, is a visual representation of the position and movement of vessels on a geographic information system.

Reef VTS provides vessel masters and pilots:

Our Purpose

The purpose of Reef VTS, as defined by the International Convention on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Chapter V (Safety of Navigation) Regulation 12, is to contribute to:

  • safety of life at sea
  • safety and efficiency of navigation
  • protection of the marine environment, adjacent shore areas, work sites and offshore installations from possible adverse effects of maritime traffic (SOLAS).

Objectives of the VTS

These objectives are in alignment to the purpose of VTS as defined by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Chapter V (Safety of Navigation) Regulation 12, VTS contributes to provide:

  • Assist with the safe and efficient vessel movements and the safety, security and resilience of our coastal waterways.
  • Enhance navigational safety by interacting with shipping to provide information on potential traffic conflicts and other navigational safety information.
  • Minimise the risk of a maritime accident and consequential ship-sourced pollution and damage to the marine environment.
  • Maintain an effective Vessel Traffic Service Quality Management System (VTSQMS) addressing the requirements of ISO 9001:2015.
  • Ensure compliance with relevant statutory and regulatory requirements.
  • Endeavour, at all times, to maximise stakeholder satisfaction with the services provided.
  • Provide response agencies with the information necessary to respond quickly in the event of any safety or pollution incident.

Reef VTS tools

Reef VTS provides these functions to vessels in the region using:

Communication systems

To communicate with Reef VTS, you need to use English and the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) Standard Marine Communication Phrases through either:

  • Inmarsat C satellite system, which allows 2-way, text-based communication between a vessel and Reef VTS 
  • VHF radio, which allows voice communication between vessels and the shore within the Reef VTS region.

Depending on a vessel’s position, you can contact Reef VTS on VHF channels 11 or 14 (radio call sign Reef VTS) 24 hours a day. To know what channel to use refer to the Reef VTS User Guide VHF Channel overview map.

If you can't communicate with Reef VTS using Inmarsat C or VHF radio, you must communicate by:

Mandatory vessel reporting system

The Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait Ship Reporting System (REEFREP) is a key part of Reef VTS. It requires all vessels—including those on overseas, interstate or intrastate voyages—to identify themselves and what their intended passage is through the region. The vessel can then be tracked as it moves through the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait.

Vessels must provide the following reports:

  • Pre-Entry Report
  • Final Report

When applicable, vessels must also provide these reports:

  • Intermediate Position Reports
  • Route Deviation Report
  • Defect Report

Marine Order 63 and the Reef VTS User Guide detail the reporting requirements.

Vessels that must report

The following vessel types must report to Reef VTS:

  • vessels 50m or more in overall length
  • oil tankers, liquefied gas carriers or chemical tankers
  • vessels involved in towing or pushing 1 of these vessels
  • vessels involved in a towing or pushing operation when the overall length of the tow is more than 150m (measured from the stern of the towing vessel to the after end of the tow).

Other vessels moving through the Reef VTS area may voluntarily report. The following vessels are encouraged, but not required, to report to Reef VTS:

  • warships
  • naval auxiliary vessels
  • government owned or operated vessels.

Failure to report

Any vessel master, or officer of the watch (while in the Reef VTS area) is committing an offence if they:

  • fail to follow the reporting requirements
  • wilfully transmit information that is incorrect, false or misleading.

If you fail to report you may be fined and convicted by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority under the Commonwealth Navigation Act 2012.

Last updated
21 November 2019