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This article was written by Michelle Makela - Legal Practice Director

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (State and Federal Industrial Tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

Life Jackets on Recreational Vessels


The rules governing the wearing of lifejackets on recreational vessels on all NSW navigable waters are governed by the Maritime Safety Regulations 2016. These regulations set out when life jackets must be worn on recreational vessels and the penalties for non-compliance.

Life jackets on recreational vessels: Requirements

It is a legal requirement for most recreational vessels in New South Wales to carry an appropriate size and type of life jacket for each person on board. They must be stored or placed to allow quick and easy access. Lifejackets must be either visible to passengers, or their location clearly marked by an unobstructed and clearly visible sign saying LIFEJACKETS.

Types Of Life jackets

There are four main types of lifejackets:

  1. Type 1 lifejacket – also known as Level 150 or Level 100 PFD.
  2. Type 2 lifejacket – also known as Level 50 PFD.
  3. Type 3 lifejacket – also known as Level 50 S PFD.
  4. Type 1 inflatable lifejacket – similar to the Type 1 lifejacket but rely on carbon dioxide for inflation.

What Lifejackets Must Be Carried On Board Recreational Vessels

Different life jacket requirements apply to vessels travelling in different waters.

Open (Ocean) Waters

A lifejacket Type 1 must be carried for everyone on board for all vessels except Outrigger Canoes (which can carry Type 1, 2 or 3).

Enclosed Waters

A lifejacket Type 1, 2 or 3 must be carried.

Alpine Waters

A lifejacket Type 1 or 2 must be carried.

Who Must Wear Life jackets on recreational vessels

The table below sets out the circumstances under which New South Wales law requires that lifejackets be worn.

Boating Activity/Passenger or Vessel type Situation
Person aged under 12 years
  • At all times in vessel under 4.8m
  • In open area of underway vessel 4.8m to 8m on enclosed, open and alpine waters
All boats under 4.8m (unless specified below)
  • All occupants on enclosed waters at night or alone
  • At all times on open and alpine waters
  • At all times if vessel is used to transport goods/people more than 200 metres from shore
All towing
  • At all times on all waters
Canoes and kayaks
  • More than 100m from shore on enclosed waters
  • At all times on open and alpine waters
Off the beach sailing vessel
  • At all times on open and alpine waters
Sailboarding
  • More than 400m from shore on enclosed, open and alpine waters
Kiteboarding
  • More than 400m from shore on open and alpine waters when alone
PWC (jetski)
  • At all times on enclosed, open and alpine waters
Crossing coastal bars
  • All vessels at all times
Skipper’s responsibility
  • When the skipper considers a “heightened risk” situation on enclosed, open and alpine waters

Challenging a fine for failing to wear life jacket on recreational vessel

A penalty notice can be challenged by electing to have the matter heard by a court. If you haven’t paid the fine and want to have the matter heard by a court, you must fill in the back of the ticket to advise the SDRO within 28 days of the infringement. If you have paid the fine, you have 90 days after the penalty notice was served to elect to go to court. To request to have the matter heard in court, complete the online court election form on the SDRO website or advise the SDRO in writing.

The maximum penalty if found guilty by a court is a fine of $5,500. You also risk a conviction being recorded.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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