Nothing pleases us more than seeing the amount of accidents in Australian waters decreasing on a year by year basis. However, any fatal or near fatal incident in our waters is a tragedy, and most of these can easily be avoided with a few simple precautions. From simply wearing life jackets to having appropriate signalling devices, this guide will help you determine some of the recommended and required safety equipment needed on board your boat to avoid an expensive fine and more importantly ensure your safe return to loved ones.
The rules regarding what safety equipment you legally need to have on board differs from state to state, though in general terms the safety guidelines and recommendations are pretty much universal. The main focus of this guide is on recreational activities and not commercial applications.
The statistics tell us that the vast majority of drownings occurring in Australian waters would most likely have been avoided if we were better at having serviced and appropriate life jackets on board. According to Royal Life Saving, Australia had 473 drownings in the 10-year period from 2005 till 2015. 92% of those were found not to have worn a life jacket. Of the remaining 8%, about half either did not have life jackets that were appropriate for the conditions, or the inflatable life jacket had not been serviced regularly and did not inflate.
Life Jackets have different levels of buoyancy from level 50 and up, depending on the conditions and activities you are doing at sea.
Level 50 buoyancy life jackets are only for competent swimmers operating in calm waters and close to shore. Level 50 life vests are most popular with watersports activities.
Level 100 buoyancy life jackets is the minimum requirement for open waters, and are intended for situations where you may need to wait for rescue. Level 100 is not recommended for rough conditions.
Level 150 life vests are intended for offshore and rough conditions. The vests are designed to be able to turn an unconscious person into a safe position with the head above the waterline.
Life Jacket Servicing
All inflatable life jackets are required to be checked and
serviced every 12 months. Some manufacturers like Axis allow you to self-service the
inflatable by following the manufacturer’s instructions. Other life jackets
will need to be serviced by an accredited professional.
When servicing your own life jacket, make certain that you sign and date the service record on your life jacket.
Checking Your Inflatable Life Jacket
- Check for visible signs of wear and damage.
- Ensure all buckles and fastenings are in good working order
- Inflate the bladder using the oral tube and leave overnight in a room with constant temperature. If the bladder loses pressure, get it serviced at an accredited service agent
- Deflate the bladder using the cap attached to the oral inflation tube
- Remove Co2 cylinder and inspect. Check for rust and corrosion and weigh the cylinder on kitchen scales. The weight should correspond with the weight engraved on the cylinder with a margin of +/- 2g.
- If the cylinder has traces of rust or corrosion, has been pierced or if the weight is incorrect, the cylinder needs to be replaced.
- For Auto inflatable life jackets, ensure the auto components are armed and in date.
- Refit cylinder to inflation system and tighten it by hand until firm.
- Repack jackets as per manufacturer’s instructions
It is a requisite to have an anchor with anchor line on board your boat. The anchor needs to be appropriate to the size of your vessel as well as suitable for the conditions you are anchoring in. For example, a reef anchor is unlikely to be sufficient in sand or mud.
A bailer bucket is one of the most useful and versatile safety items on board. You need to have at least one solid bucket with a lanyard attached. In addition to being great for bailing water out of the boat, it can also be used for fighting fires and serve as a sea anchor .
If your vessel has a covered bilge, you are required to have a bilge pump on board capable of draining each compartment of your boat. The bilge pump can either be automatic or manual.
Chart and Compass
Bring a minimum of 2 litres of fresh drinking water per person when travelling in open waters.
Vessels travelling more than 2 nautical miles from the
mainland are required to have a registered
Position Indicating Radio Beacon) that operates on the 406 MHz frequency on
board. In an emergency, an activated EPIRB will continuously send out a
distress signal for at least 48 hours, helping search and rescue authorities
pinpoint your location.
Epirbs with a built in GPS system will provide rescuers with your GPS coordinates, improving the location accuracy for the rescuers. According to Australian Maritime Safety Authority, beacons with GPS can pinpoint your location within 120 metres as opposed to 5 kilometres for non-GPS ones. The time to provide your location is also dramatically shortened from about 20 minutes compared to up to 5 hours.
Lightweight crafts may in some states carry Personal Location Beacons (PLB) instead of an EPIRB. The PLB needs to comply with AS /NZ 4280.20, be GPS enabled, float, be worn by the operator and registered with AMSA.
EPIRB Battery Check
Every EPIRB has a battery expiration date provided by the manufacturer. Ensure that your EPIRB’s battery is in operational order. If expired, you will need to replace the beacon.
All EPIRBS must be registered with the Australia Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). Registration is free with a simple online registration form. Skippers are required to provide proof of registration if asked by authorities.
Vessels with electric start motors, gas installations, fuel stoves or batteries must carry a fire extinguisher appropriate for the fuel carried by the boat.
Flares act as distress signals, both alerting others that you are in trouble as well as providing an exact location for search authorities. Only ignite the flares when potential rescuers are in view and can spot your flare.
If you are operating in open waters (offshore) you are required to carry flares on board your vessel.
You need a minimum of 2 red hand flares and 2 orange smoke flares. Orange flares are for daylight use only, whereas the red ones are visible both during night and day.
Check the expiration date of your flares, as they normally have a use-by-date of 3 years. Please dispose of expired flares in accordance with your state’s regulations.
Other Signalling devices
Air horns, bells, whistles, waterproof torches, light sticks and mirrors are great signalling devices that take up little to no space at all, but are great for alerting others of your whereabouts or if you require assistance. These inexpensive devices can dramatically shorten the time it takes for you to be found and rescued.
Fluorescent orange v-sheets are also required on-board any vessel travelling in open waters. The large sheet can be spread over deck or flown as a flag to alert others if you require assistance.
Marine radios are compulsory on boats travelling more than 2 nautical miles from the mainland. VHF radios are the most common type of marine radio and offer a method to communicate with coast stations and other vessels. Channel 16 is the internationally recognized VHF radio frequency designated to distress, urgency and safety calls.
Paddles or Oars
Vessels under 6 metres in length require a secondary means of propulsion in case of engine failure. Paddles or oars together with rowlocks must be carried on-board the boat as a backup plan. A telescopic paddle takes up less space and can easily be stowed away when not needed.
Keep your safety equipment organised and ready for emergencies by keeping it all together in an accessible and water-resistant grab bag.
The Life Cell is the next step up from the grab bag, with ample storage for flares, EPIRB, torch and other safety equipment while also functioning as a floatation device.
First Aid Kit
It is always a good idea to have a first aid kit on-board the boat for various emergencies. The size of the first aid kit should reflect the amount of people your boat can carry.
If you are out boating by yourself, the
wearable man-overboard device has the potential to alert loved ones at home if
you fall overboard.
The wristband connects to an app on your phone, which can be set up to send SMS messages with your GPS coordinates to preset mobile numbers when an accident happens. This service requires a GSM network, and for your phone to be left safely in the boat when falling overboard.