Help shape the future of maritime safety in NSW

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Transport for NSW is developing the Maritime Safety Plan 2026 as part of the NSW Government’s commitment to reduce fatalities and serious injuries on our waterways.

The new five-year plan builds upon the achievements of the Maritime Safety Plan 2021. It incorporates the Safe System Approach which focuses on safe people, safe vessels and safe waterways.

The plan focuses on four key areas:

  • safer lifejacket wear and equipment
  • safer boating through technology
  • safer waterway access and infrastructure
  • growing our safety culture.

We are seeking your feedback on these proposals to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone spending time on NSW waterways.

Proposed changes to simplify and expand lifejacket wear requirements

We also invite you to have your say on the proposed changes to simplify and expand lifejacket wear requirements in NSW. Our aim is to ensure that the law regarding lifejacket wear compliance is safer and easier to understand, so that more lives can be saved on NSW waterways. You can read more about the proposed changes in the fact sheet. The two proposed options are:

  • ‘Option A’ would require mandatory wearing of lifejackets by adults:
    • on vessels less than 6m when underway; and
    • at all times for vessels less than 6m when boating alone, on alpine waters or between sunset and sunrise (heightened risk circumstances).
  • ‘Option B’ will require mandatory wearing of lifejackets by adults:
    • on vessels less than 6m in enclosed waters when underway; and
    • on all vessels in open waters in the open area of the vessel when underway; and
    • at all times when boating alone, on alpine waters or between sunset and sunrise (heightened risk circumstances).

Under both options, children under 12 years of age will be required to wear a lifejacket:

  • at all times in a vessel less than 6m in enclosed and open waters; and
  • in the open area of a vessel greater than 6m that is underway in enclosed and open waters.

How many lives could be saved?

Tragically we have seen 131 lives lost over 10 years and 79 of these might have been saved had all people been wearing a lifejacket. Our data indicates that 71 per cent of preventable drownings over this period involved vessels less than 6 metres long.

Over the 10-year period to June 2020, assuming 100% compliance with the relevant laws:

  • Option A could have saved up to 56 lives
  • Option B could have saved up to 67 lives.

Read the fact sheet for more data about options A and B.

Tell us what you think

To ensure that we are meeting the needs of the NSW community, we would like your feedback on the draft Maritime Safety Plan 2026. Your feedback is important and will inform the way in which we manage maritime safety over the next five years.

You can access Life Jacket and Maritime Safety Plan 2026 Fact Sheets, FAQs and the draft Maritime Safety Plan 2026 to help inform your responses. Public consultation will close at 11:59pm on 24 September 2021.

Transport for NSW is developing the Maritime Safety Plan 2026 as part of the NSW Government’s commitment to reduce fatalities and serious injuries on our waterways.

The new five-year plan builds upon the achievements of the Maritime Safety Plan 2021. It incorporates the Safe System Approach which focuses on safe people, safe vessels and safe waterways.

The plan focuses on four key areas:

  • safer lifejacket wear and equipment
  • safer boating through technology
  • safer waterway access and infrastructure
  • growing our safety culture.

We are seeking your feedback on these proposals to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone spending time on NSW waterways.

Proposed changes to simplify and expand lifejacket wear requirements

We also invite you to have your say on the proposed changes to simplify and expand lifejacket wear requirements in NSW. Our aim is to ensure that the law regarding lifejacket wear compliance is safer and easier to understand, so that more lives can be saved on NSW waterways. You can read more about the proposed changes in the fact sheet. The two proposed options are:

  • ‘Option A’ would require mandatory wearing of lifejackets by adults:
    • on vessels less than 6m when underway; and
    • at all times for vessels less than 6m when boating alone, on alpine waters or between sunset and sunrise (heightened risk circumstances).
  • ‘Option B’ will require mandatory wearing of lifejackets by adults:
    • on vessels less than 6m in enclosed waters when underway; and
    • on all vessels in open waters in the open area of the vessel when underway; and
    • at all times when boating alone, on alpine waters or between sunset and sunrise (heightened risk circumstances).

Under both options, children under 12 years of age will be required to wear a lifejacket:

  • at all times in a vessel less than 6m in enclosed and open waters; and
  • in the open area of a vessel greater than 6m that is underway in enclosed and open waters.

How many lives could be saved?

Tragically we have seen 131 lives lost over 10 years and 79 of these might have been saved had all people been wearing a lifejacket. Our data indicates that 71 per cent of preventable drownings over this period involved vessels less than 6 metres long.

Over the 10-year period to June 2020, assuming 100% compliance with the relevant laws:

  • Option A could have saved up to 56 lives
  • Option B could have saved up to 67 lives.

Read the fact sheet for more data about options A and B.

Tell us what you think

To ensure that we are meeting the needs of the NSW community, we would like your feedback on the draft Maritime Safety Plan 2026. Your feedback is important and will inform the way in which we manage maritime safety over the next five years.

You can access Life Jacket and Maritime Safety Plan 2026 Fact Sheets, FAQs and the draft Maritime Safety Plan 2026 to help inform your responses. Public consultation will close at 11:59pm on 24 September 2021.

  • What is the Maritime Safety Plan 2026?

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    In 2018, Transport for NSW (TfNSW) launched the Maritime Safety Plan 2021 (MSP 2021) based on the internationally recognised Safe System approach. This plan set out a comprehensive list of initiatives aimed at reducing fatalities and serious injuries by 30 per cent and at laying the foundation for the long-term target of zero fatalities on the water by 2056.

    The Maritime Safety Plan 2026 (MSP 2026) builds on the groundwork achieved through MSP 2021 and continues the Safe System approach. Extensive stakeholder engagement has occurred throughout the drafting of the MSP 2026 through a number of forums and workshops, attended by our key stakeholders including the Boating Industry Association, Marine Rescue Volunteers and members of the Maritime Advisory Council. The Plan details current safety issues and the series of ‘countermeasures’ – the methods that have been developed to address them – over the next five years. TfNSW has analysed safety data such as fatality and injury incidents and developed various countermeasures to reduce or mitigate risks and make every waterway journey as safe as possible.

  • How has the Maritime Safety Plan 2026 been created?

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    MSP 2026 builds on the extensive work undertaken as part of the MSP 2021 and a dedicated program of work over the last 12 months to improve the evidence base available and help us understand where we are best able to add value and contribute to safety outcomes on NSW waterways. This included consideration of best practice maritime safety arrangements in other areas and a future technology horizon scan. This enabled us to develop a set of countermeasures that have since been tested across two rounds of targeted consultation with industry and other safety partners.

  • What is the purpose of the Maritime Safety Plan 2026?

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    The purpose of the MSP 2026 is to set the NSW Government's continued strategic direction and supporting countermeasures for safety on NSW waterways. The Plan will continue working to achieve our target of zero fatalities and serious injuries on waterways in NSW by 2056, as set out in the MSP 2021 and the Future Transport 2056 strategy.

  • Why do we need a Maritime Safety Plan 2026?

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    Every year, too many people are tragically killed or seriously injured on NSW waterways. Even one fatality or serious injury is not acceptable. The NSW Government is determined to reduce fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2056 across all transport networks. The MSP 2026 is the NSW Government’s five-year plan to reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries on NSW waterways.

  • Outcomes from the Maritime Safety Plan 2021

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    Implementation of the MSP 2021 has resulted in new ongoing maritime safety programs and informed development of additional countermeasures identified in the MSP 2026. Key achievements delivered through implementation of the MSP 2021 include:

    • A successful behaviour change program to promote correct lifejacket wear and servicing of lifejackets, including establishment of inflatable lifejacket self-service clinics at key boating locations and a retail partner program. Results show the campaign has strong recognition above norm at 64% (57% norm) and is positively impacting behavioural outcome objectives with boaters who have seen the campaign.
    • The establishment of the Maritime Safe System Data Excellence Program to expand our maritime safety evidence base and data insights to inform safety initiatives and operations.
    • The delivery of the Boating Now program which has added increased accessibility and safety across NSW Waterways through the delivery of more than 200 infrastructure projects.
    • New boating safety alerts – Transport for NSW has developed new ways of reaching boaters with general safety and weather alerts. Three trial Variable Messaging Signs (VMS) were installed at high-traffic boat ramps across the state from September 2020. This is coupled with new safety alerts issued by the Deckee companion app and targeted alerts via social media.
    • The Aboriginal Maritime Safety Plan was launched in November 2020. Its aim is to help reduce Aboriginal representation in boating trauma. It acknowledges the need for ongoing collaboration with Aboriginal communities together with the design and implementation of culturally appropriate boating safety programs.
    • Enhanced digital engagement: Transport for NSW launched a new boating safety website (http://lifejacketwearit.com.au) in October 2020. This has enhanced utilities for customers such as interactive tools to select a suitable lifejacket, finding the e nearest lifejacket-servicing location and rich educational content around priority boating safety issues.
    • Refreshed and updated NSW Boating Handbook in 2021 to make boating laws and regulations clearer for boaters.
  • What is a Safe System Approach?

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    The MSP 2026 incorporates the Safe System approach. Safe System is an internationally-recognised and adopted methodology to reduce trauma. It focuses on understanding and countering issues that cause trauma on the water and takes a holistic view of the interacting elements. The elements include safe people, safe vessels and safe waterways.

    Safe System is guided by four principles:

    1. People make mistakes - some boating incidents are inevitable.
    2. People are vulnerable - human bodies have a limited ability to withstand crash forces, submersion and exposure to weather conditions.
    3. Safety is a shared responsibility - system designers and the maritime public share responsibility for managing boating incidents.
    4. All parts of the system must be strengthened - including vessel design, safety equipment, infrastructure, access points, communication and aids to navigation. If one part fails, other parts will still protect the people involved.
  • What are the focus safety areas that contribute to boating fatalities and incidents?

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    Transport for NSW reviewed fatality, serious injury, incident, infringement and complaints data to identify five focus safety areas for MSP 2026.

    Lifejacket wear: contributes to 60.3% of recreational boating fatalities and is the most important priority issue.

    Weather conditions: contributes to 22% of total boating fatality incidents

    Boater age: has accounted for an increasing share of fatal incidents over time, contributes 26.7% of recreational boating fatalities

    Trauma: for example, fatalities caused by excessive speed and towing safety, there has been a lack of improvement in the rate over the long term, contributes 25.2% of recreational boating fatalities

    Open runabouts: this vessel type accounts for the greatest share of incidents among all vessel types and is significantly overrepresented in the incident data and contributes 31.7% of total boating fatality incidents.

    Collectively these five focus areas contributed to 94.7% of all recreational boating fatalities over the 10 years to June 2020. These focus areas and stakeholder consultation have informed the development of the four priority areas of the plan.

  • What are the priority areas for the Maritime Safety Plan 2026?

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    After a six-month consultation period with maritime partners and leading industry stakeholders, four priority areas were identified. These priority areas and the proposed countermeasures are listed below.

    Safer lifejacket wear and equipment: wearing a lifejacket is the single most important action a boater can take to prevent a fatality on the water. In NSW, 7 out of 10 people who drown are not wearing a lifejacket. This focus area will seek to make it easier to understand when a lifejacket is required and take measures to encourage more people to wear lifejackets.

    Stakeholder views captured at the April 2021 Maritime Safety Plan 2026 countermeasures workshop indicated that:

    • 90% agreed that current lifejacket rules for boating should be simplified
    • 82% agreed that lifejacket wear should be expanded to more boating situations than what is required by the current rules.

    Proposed countermeasures:

    • Simplify and expand lifejacket-wear requirements so that the law is easier to understand, and more lives can be saved.
    • Continue to support lifejacket wear and servicing.
    • Explore opportunities to make lifejacket care and lifejacket servicing easier
    • Ensure the regulatory compliance framework reflects the importance of safety factors on our waterways.
    • Introduce minor amendments to equipment requirements and standards.

    Safer boating through technology: technology offers an opportunity to improve safety, access and experience for boaters. This priority area will both make use of existing technologies and prepare for emerging technologies identified through our future technology horizon scan.

    Proposed countermeasures:

    • Promote safer vessels and safer vessel technologies.
    • Simplified boating safety information digital ecosystem aimed at reducing complexity and at enhancing customer use.
    • Explore enhanced digital connectivity for on-water boaters to aid safe navigation and explore emergency contact functionality.
    • Engage with technology innovators to explore the specific innovation challenge of harnessing new data sources to enhance insights on boating activity and waterway use.
    • Investigate the potential application of aerial and marine drones for waterways’ management.
    • Ensure the policy and regulatory framework is fit for purpose to facilitate the introduction of technologies that will support safer boating

    Safer waterway access and infrastructure: the NSW Government will continue the infrastructure building that has been occurring in and around NSW waterways. This area will look at how it can provide boaters with convenient access to the water for different types of craft and other on-water infrastructure that can provide for boater's safety when out on the water.

    Proposed countermeasures:

    • Continue to deliver the significant program of funded projects under the Boating Now and Maritime Infrastructure Stimulus Program.
    • Continue to invest in new boating infrastructure to support safer access to the waterways and other enhancements commencing with Round 4 of the Boating Now Program.
    • Explore potential opportunities from low-cost sensor and other technologies to monitor boating infrastructure assets and to provide improved data on infrastructure condition, performance and uses.
    • Establish a long-term, sustainable dredging program to support boater access to key waterways.
    • Committed to implementing mooring and ELV reforms.
    • Implementing measures to enhance access to and protection of NSW waters.
    • Investigating the potential to expand maritime sharing economy initiatives including Maritime Short Term Rental Accommodation (MSTRA).


    Growing our Safety Culture: safety on the water is a shared responsibility. This area will take actions to support and encourage boaters, the boating industry and stakeholders to work together to adopt safer boating practices.

    Proposed countermeasures:

    • Enhance understanding of risks associated with boating -particularly the risks for older boaters - and how to safely manage them.
    • Facilitate education programs around right-of-way rules to ensure all users are sharing the waterways safely.
    • Introduce practical training and experience requirements to improve the skills and judgement capability of new PWC drivers.
    • Supporting increased awareness of learning and training programs could help to build further competency.
    • Develop tailored resources for new and returning boaters - incorporating key rules and safety advice.
    • Continue to deliver advice regarding the use of good judgement and to promote safe decision-making over-risk-taking behaviours, particularly with respect to managing weather and waterway conditions.
    • Investigate further whether additional safety measures are required for sailing vessel skippers.
    • We will trial emerging digital technologies to enhance the effectiveness of boater education and training.
    • Build real-time messaging capabilities near highly trafficked waterway access point to promote continuous boater judgement, including opportunities presented by QR codes.
    • We will investigate measures to improve vessels standards as well support Edition 5 of the Australian Builders Plate
  • Why has the cut-off length been increased from 4.8m to 6m?

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    Increasing the cut-off length for vessels to 6 metres will increase safety outcomes for more boating users on NSW waterways.

    Increasing the vessel length to 6 metres will capture an additional 25 per cent of the recreational fleet. Analysis indicates that 56 of the 79 (71 per cent) preventable drownings over the 10 years to June 2020 involved vessels less than six metres long.

    Of these, 16 (20 per cent) fatalities occurred on vessels between 4.8 and 6 metres.

    This was further supported by outcomes achieved in Tasmania where there has been a considerable improvement in the average annual fatality rate since the adoption of the 6-metre length in 2001.

  • Proposed changes to lifejacket wear

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