When will it be a requirement to wear a lifejacket?

The requirement to wear a lifejacket will depend on the type of vessel you are on and where that vessel is on NSW waterways. The proposed laws are designed to be simpler and easier to interpret than those currently in place. This will make them easier to understand for NSW boaters, with the goal of driving increased wear to save lives.

Why are you undertaking these reforms?

Proposed changes to simplify and expand lifejacket wear requirements are designed to save more lives on NSW waterways.

There have been a number of independent studies, both nationally and internationally, on the effectiveness of lifejackets in preventing fatalities. The National Assessment of Boating Fatalities in Australia 1999-2004 concluded that people can double their chances of surviving by wearing a lifejacket.

The rate of recreational drowning fatalities has increased for three consecutive years since 2016-17. Of note, was the tragic and sharp increase in recreational boating fatalities in 2019-20, with a further 17 fatalities in 2020-21. Over the 10-year period to 2019-20, up to 79 lives might have been saved had all people presumed drowned in recreational boating incidents been wearing a lifejacket. This represents 60.3 per cent of all recreational boating fatalities over this period. More than seven out of 10 people presumed drowned in recreational boating incidents over this period were not wearing a lifejacket.

Safety outcomes related to lifejackets in recent years suggests that the collective impact of previous regulatory, education and enforcement interventions has been fully leveraged and that more impactful policy intervention is needed. Changing wear requirements in NSW provides the greatest opportunity to deliver a step-change improvement in lifejacket wear among boaters and reduce fatalities.

Why have these options been chosen?

Considerable work has been undertaken to consider how wear requirements might change and to evaluate the safety and stakeholder impacts of reform. Following an extensive evaluation and analysis process, two options have been developed for public consultation.

The primary consideration in determining the options was safety. It has been shown that both options will enable a significant reduction in the number of lives lost on NSW waterways. Stakeholder considerations were also central in our thinking, and we believe the options proposed strike the best balance in promoting safety improvements, whilst ensuring the requirements for boaters are proportionate to the risks they face on the water.

What existing education programs are there on lifejacket wear?

There has been significant education on the importance of wearing a lifejacket since 2010 when the current laws were introduced.

While the compulsory requirements to wear lifejackets are limited, the message to the public has been to encourage lifejacket wear irrespective of the circumstance. This message has been reinforced through public education campaigns such as the ‘Wear a lifejacket’ advertising campaign that was introduced in 2012 which helped raised awareness of the need to wear a lifejacket.

The Old4New Lifejacket Program ran from 2013 to 2018. This program educated boaters on lifejacket wear and servicing. It also provided boaters with the opportunity to trade in their old foam lifejackets for newer styles at a discounted price. The program paved the way for the development of free Lifejacket Servicing Clinics hosted by NSW Maritime Boating Education Officers throughout the boating season at boat ramps across the state.

The website was also developed to help people select the right lifejacket for their preferred on-water activity. The website has recently been revamped to allow boaters to sign up to receive annual reminders on when to service their inflatable lifejacket. They are also able to find the nearest lifejacket servicing agent near them if they are unable to self-service their lifejacket.

While much work has been done to educate boaters about lifejacket wear, we are now at a point where further regulatory changes are needed in order to improve safety outcomes. These changes will occur alongside the continuation and expansion of our ongoing education programs.

Are many more people going to be captured under these wear requirements than is currently the case?

A lifejacket will only save your life if you are wearing it. These proposed new wear requirements will mean more people will have to wear lifejackets under more circumstances than is currently the case.

Importantly, the wear requirements are designed to reflect the risk attached with different boating activities. When on enclosed waters, for example, boaters will not be required to wear a lifejacket when at anchor.

The laws have also been designed to be safer, simpler and easier to understand than those currently in place, with the intention being to improve the uptake of lifejacket wear and reduce drownings on our waterways.

How do these new requirements compare to other States?

These reforms will make the NSW regulatory framework similar other jurisdictions on the East Coast. Tasmania currently has the furthest reaching wear requirements. Since 2001 all people are required to wear lifejackets on motor vessels less than 6m in length and on all waters whilst underway.

Victoria introduced new laws in 2005, which are similar to the Tasmanian laws but for power driven vessels up to 4.8m in length.

Both Victoria and Tasmania report that there has been a reduction in the average annual fatality rate as a result of their reforms.

When will they come into effect?

It is important that all stakeholder views are captured and inform the design of any rule changes. Timing will be confirmed once the consultation period is complete and a final position is determined.

We will keep stakeholders informed following this consultation process.

Will we have to purchase new lifejackets because of these reforms?

The existing carriage requirements for lifejackets have not changed. Vessels must carry enough approved lifejackets for everyone on board at all times – even when they do not have to be worn.

There are different lifejacket types which provide different levels of buoyancy and neck support. It is not proposed to change the requirements around lifejacket types (i.e. Level 50, Level 100 etc.) needed for different activities and waterways under any option. From a safety perspective, the current requirements reflect the relative risk of being in enclosed and open waters, with Level 100 (or more) lifejackets offering superior buoyancy and neck support.

How are these laws going to impact those going fishing? Are we still going to be able to fish while at anchor or drifting?

Boaters who fish are a major part of our maritime community and their views will be considered as part of this process. The proposed wear requirements will mean people fishing on boats less than six metres will need to wear lifejackets while underway on enclosed and open waters.

It is only under Option B that people fishing on larger vessels greater than six metres will need to wear lifejackets while on open waters, but this will only be when on an open part of the vessel. When you are drifting, you are underway.

What does it mean for canoers and kayakers?

Canoers and kayakers will be required to wear a lifejacket when they are underway and also when paddling between sunset and sunrise, when on alpine waters or alone (without another person 12 years of age or more on the same vessel).

What are the proposed lifejacket requirements for children?

Children can be particularly vulnerable to harm when incidents happen on our waterways, which is why we have improved requirements. Under both of the proposed options, children will be required to wear a at all times on a vessel less than six metres or when in an open area of a vessel greater than six metres that is underway. The adoption of six metres as the cut-off limit is consistent with our approach to improving safety for adults.

What about sailboards and kiteboards?

We have removed the caveat that a lifejacket is only required when more than 400m from the shore.

What about lifejacket requirements for stand-up paddleboards?

Paddleboards are currently not incorporated into the regulatory framework that applies for lifejacket wear while boating. We are not proposing any changes to lifejacket requirements for stand-up paddle boarders during this process.

We are interested in hearing stakeholder views on this issue.

Are there any change to requirements for when crossing a coastal bar?

Crossing a coastal bar can be a very hazardous boating experience. There is no change to the current laws in relation to wearing a lifejacket while crossing a coastal bar.

Are there any changes for lifejacket wear requirements for PWC riders or anyone being towed?

No, the current laws remain.

What else is being done to support lifejacket wear?

Any potential change to simplify and expand lifejacket wear laws will be supported by other Safe System measures such as education campaigns and engagement activities to increase awareness and understanding of these requirements among NSW boaters.

We will continue to support lifejacket wear and servicing through partnering education programs around choosing the right lifejacket and ongoing service requirements. We will also explore opportunities to make lifejacket care and service easier for boating customers. We will investigate re-establishing a program similar to the Old4New lifejacket program. A renewed lifejacket program could allow boaters to purchase, self-service or service, access spare parts and customised advice through one simple interface.

We acknowledge that emerging digital technologies also have the ability to enhance boater education and we will adopt future advances in technology to deliver further safety improvements.

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