Launching and retrieving your vessel

Launching a boat from a trailer and retrieving it (loading) are important skills. In each instance, the steps to be taken must be carefully planned and executed to ensure safety and to avoid damage to the vessel.

  • Make pre-launch preparations well away from the ramp
  • If you’re launching a ‘trailer sailer’, check for overhead wires before you rig or move your boat
  • Line up the car and trailer so that the backing process will be straight and as short as possible
  • Study the ramp and surrounding water area for any hazards
  • Do not remove the trailer winch or safety chain until your vessel is in the water
  • Secure lines to the bow and stern, then either float or motor off with care
  • Turn off your lights to park when inclined up the ramp
  • Wear a lifejacket of the appropriate type if you are operating the boat alone while launching and retrieving

  • Insist that everyone aboard is within the boat itself, not on the side decking, and especially not on the bow or where they will obstruct your view
  • Move off slowly. The same goes for returning to jetty, mooring or ramp
  • Always check for trailing ropes that may be caught in your propeller

  • Align the centre of your vessel to that of the trailer; proceed carefully up the trailer until the winch or safety chain can be secured
  • If you are not confident in driving your vessel on to the trailer, you can secure a line to both the bow and stern to control the boat as you use the winch
  • Vacate the ramp as quickly as possible and park in the appropriate preparation area to finish securing the vessel for towing
  • Driving your boat onto the trailer may cause erosion around the end of the ramp structure, or effect other boats or kayak operating nearby

Safe vessel loading and stability

Overloading your vessel is dangerous, reducing its stability and seaworthiness.

Your Australian Builders Plate specifies the maximum person loading. If it doesn’t, refer to the manufacturer’s recommendation or contact Safe Transport Victoria for guidance.

The maximum number of people that can be carried in a recreational vessel is represented in the table below.

Note that maximum carrying capacity applies for good conditions, with a reduction in the needed if planning to operate in adverse conditions or on the open sea. You should also reduce the number of persons if equipment and supplies exceed allocated weight.

Length of vessel Maximum passengers
Less than 3 m Two people
3 m to less than 3.5 m Three people
3.5 m to less than 4.5 m Four people
4.5 m to less than 5 m Five people
5 m to less than 5.5 m Six people
5.5 m to less than 6 m Seven people

When calculating passenger numbers, the weight of a person is assumed to be 80 kg, with an additional allowance of 10 kg per person for personal gear. Children under one year aren’t counted, while those between one and 12 years are counted as 0.5.


Anchoring is also an important measure to keep you safe in an emergency. Below is a clear breakdown of things keep in mind during anchoring operations.

Careful selection of anchor, chain, or line based on vessel’s needs, water depth, and bottom type.

Lowering the anchor instead of throwing it to prevent tangling.

When at anchor, keep an eye out to make sure you are not dragging or that some other vessel is not bearing down on you – be sure to take avoiding action if necessary.

Use a general rule of at least three times the depth of water for the length of line paid out, increased to five times in rough seas.

Regularly monitor the vessel’s position and inspecting rope tension to prevent dragging the anchor.

Be aware of specific areas where anchoring of vessels is prohibited according to Vessel Operating and Zoning Rules (VOZR).

Avoid anchoring in shipping channels, transit lanes, or securing vessels to navigational aids due to illegality and hazards.


The Marine Safety Regulations prohibit fuelling when passengers are on board, and also prohibit restarting vessels with passengers on board after refuelling.

An exception exists for places other than a wharf, jetty and pier if it is not practical or possible to disembark passengers before fuelling or restarting the vessel.

Penalties apply for fuelling vessels while passengers are on board and for restarting vessels with passengers on board after fuelling.

Liquefied petroleum gas safety

Owners of any vessel that has gas onboard should take precautions to reduce the risk of liquified petroleum gas (LPG)-related fires.

Should only be used in well-ventilated areas where gas will not accumulate in a cavity or well.  Any appliance must be secured against sudden vessel movements.

Must comply with Energy Safe Victoria’s requirements – this includes having an inspection of new installations by an Energy Safe Victoria inspector.

Propeller strike

Propeller-related injuries are preventable when adhering to safety guidelines. Skippers must take precautions to avoid propeller-related injuries, especially near swimmers and children, and during tow sports.

The engine should be stopped whenever picking up swimmers out of the water.

Inspecting the area before starting the engine, always keeping a lookout, staying out of swimming areas, and using a kill switch lanyard which stops the engine when pulled out.

Diving operations

What divers need to do to be safe

Divers should make themselves visible to boaters with the appropriate day flag or night signal. Consider bright clothing for higher visibility. Avoid areas of high vessel usage and areas where the terrain might inhibit vessel operators’ ability to see you in the water.

White and blue International Code Flag ‘A’

Vessels under 10 m: Display dive flag at least 750 mm long and 600 mm wide.

Vessels longer than 10 m: Display dive flag at least 1 m. It should be placed to ensure all-round visibility.

International signal for a vessel restricted in its ability to manoeuvre.

Vessels must show at least three lights in a vertical line, with the top and bottom being red and the middle one white, only where the size of the vessel makes it impracticable to exhibit the lights and shapes otherwise required.

What boaters can do to keep divers safe

Be aware that divers in the water may not be near a vessel. A diver who is not operating from a vessel that is displaying a dive flag will be attached to a buoy that has a dive flag attached to a rigid replica of the flag.

A master of the vessel must not operate at a speed exceeding 5 knots within 100 m of a vessel or a buoy on which a dive flag is displayed. Divers may ascend at any time.