Vessel speed and distance

All vessels are required to always travel at a safe speed.

The master of a powerboat must constantly monitor the speed of the vessel to ensure that a safe speed is being maintained.

A five-knot speed limit applies to all operators within:

  • 50m of a person; for example, a swimmer
  • 50m of another vessel
  • 100m of a vessel or buoy on which a ‘diver below’ signal corresponding to the International Code Flag ‘A’ is displayed – a white/blue flag.

On coastal and enclosed waters, a five-knot speed limit applies to all vessels:

  • Within 200m of the water’s edge, except in an access lane
  • Within 50m of any wharf or similar structure including a jetty, slipway, diving platform or boat ramp, except in an access lane
  • When passing through a recognised anchorage for small vessels.

Note: There might be local rules that are different to the state rules of 200m on enclosed waters.

On inland waters, a five-knot speed limit applies to all vessels within:

  • 50m of the water’s edge
  • 50m of any fixed or floating structure in or on the water.

Buoyage system

Navigation buoys are an important part of waterway safety. They are used to guide vessels through navigable channels, warn of hazards, and indicate safe water.

The system of navigational aids in Victorian ports and around the coast is the IALA Maritime Buoyage System A, which is made up of beacons, buoys, seamarks and small lights.

The five major types of marks are lateral, cardinal, isolated danger, special and safe water.

Indicate the port (left) and the starboard (right) sides of the channels when travelling into port.

When marks are numbered, odd numbers are on the starboard side and even numbers on the port side when travelling in the direction of buoyage.

Cardinal marks warn of hazards and indicate the direction of safe water.

They have black and yellow bands with black double cones on top showing the different compass direction that identifies the safest and deepest water in which to travel:

N = Two cones point up or north
E = Two cones pointing away from each other
S = Two cones pointing down
W = Two cones point to point

At night, the rhythm of the light will indicate the quadrant of the mark, with the number of flashes corresponds to the numbers on a clock face:

N = continuous flash
E = 3 flashes
S = 6 flashes (and one long flash)
W= 9 flashes.

In Victorian waters, special marks are coloured yellow and are commonly used to indicate no boating zones, special activity zones and speed restriction zones.

Located on, or moored above, this mark signals an isolated danger of limited extent that has navigable water all around it. The colours are red and black horizontal stripes.

Used to indicate navigable water all around the mark – can be used as a channel entrance, centre line, mid-channel or landfall buoy. They are coloured with red and white vertical stripes.

Used to describe newly discovered hazards not yet shown in nautical documents such as naturally occurring obstructions or man-made dangers such as wrecks. They are coloured with blue and yellow vertical stripes.

Mini buoys

‘Stop – no boats’ or ‘Swimming – no boats’ are used to mark prohibited water and swimming areas.

These signal that an area is set aside as a speed restriction zone because excessive speed is a risk to the operator, to other vessels or persons, or to the environment.

The yellow buoys may be placed because of local or general requirements for slower speeds.

These signal that the waters between the buoys are unrestricted to allow the picking up or dropping off a water skier.

These special purpose unmarked buoys are used to signify regatta areas, hazards, channels, etc.

It is more difficult to judge speeds and distances at night or in restricted visibility, with lighting configurations helping avoid collisions.

The Marine Safety Act requires that lights must be displayed from sunset to sunrise and in times of restricted visibility during daylight hours.

Light rhythms


Rhythm Description Navigation chart abbreviation
Fixed A light showing steadily and continuously F
Flash Duration of light shorter than duration of darkness FL
Occulting Duration of light longer than duration of darkness Oc
Iso phase Duration of light and darkness are equal Iso
Quick flash A flash rate of 50 to 80 flashes per minute Q
Very quick flash A flash rate of 80 to 160 flashes per minute VQ
Long flash A flash of not less than two seconds LFI
Group flash A group of two or more flashes (with the number indicating the number of flashes in a group) FL(2) or VQ(9)
Morse A A light flashing Morse code signal A (dot, dash) Mo (A)

When the light exhibited is not white, the colour is indicated in the chart abbreviation by Y (yellow), R (red) or G (green); for example, Fl.(4)Y

  • The period of a light (time between the start of successive sequences) is indicated in seconds by the letters; for example, Fl.R.5s means a single red flash every five seconds.

There is a new infringement for installing navigation lights incorrectly, including having   navigation lights installed incorrectly during daylight hours.

This condition requires that navigation lights   are placed so that they are consistent with the provisions of the Convention   on the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea.

Vessel navigation lights 

It is more difficult to judge speeds and distances at night or in restricted visibility, with lighting configurations helping avoid collisions. 

There is a new infringement for installing navigation lights incorrectly, including having navigation lights installed incorrectly during daylight hours.

This condition requires that navigation lights are placed so that they are consistent with the provisions of the Convention on the International Regulations for the Prevention of Collisions at Sea.

Powerboats need masthead, stern and sidelights. A boat under 12m may combine the stern and masthead into an all round white light.

An all round white light and sidelight needs to be displayed when underway, with only an all round light required when at anchor. Drifting requires sidelights, masthead and stern lights.

Power-driven boats under 7m and max speed under 7 knots may show an all-round white light, with sidelights if possible. Boats under 7m at anchor away from usual vessel traffic and boats under 12m aground don’t require an all-round white light.


Vessels under 50m can have a second masthead light as an option. Vessels under 12m can use combined sidelights on the fore and aft centreline.

When a vessel tows another vessel, if tow length is under 200m, display two masthead lights, sidelights and a stern light. A yellow towing light goes over the stern light of the towing vessel. Towed vessels need to show sidelights and a stern light. If tow length exceeds 200m, lights should be displayed as a diamond shape.

When anchored, a vessel under 50m needs one all-round light and optional second lower light at stern; for those 50m or more, two all-round lights, higher forward one. Vessels 100m or more must also use deck lights.

When a vessel is aground, use anchor lights and two all-round red lights. Vessels under 12m aren’t required to use these lights, but caution is advised.

In these circumstances, three all-round lights (top and bottom lights red and the middle light white) are used. When making way through the water, the vessel must also show masthead lights, sidelights and stern light.

When at anchor, the vessel must also show anchor lights. This signal does not indicate distress or a need for help, but operators should navigate with caution.

A vessel with an obstruction on one side shall, in addition to restricted ability to manoeuvre lights, carry two all-round red lights on the side of the obstruction, and two all-round green lights on the side where vessels may pass.

A power-driven vessel restricted to a narrow channel by her draught, and thus unable to deviate from course, should additionally display three all-round red lights.

Two all-round lights, the top light white and the lower light red, are displayed. When at anchor, anchor light or lights displayed; when under way, sidelights and stern light.

Two all-round red lights to be displayed and, when making way through the water, sidelights and stern light (vessels under 12m in length are not required to comply). This signal does not mean distress but shows inability to manoeuvre. Vessels are required to keep clear of vessels that are not under command.

Two all-round lights, the top light green and the lower light white, are to be displayed. A rear masthead light is optional for fishing vessels under 50m in length. Making way through water, sidelights and stern lights need to be shown.

Two all-round lights, the top light red and the lower light white, are to be displayed. If outlying gear extends over 150m horizontally from the fishing vessel, one all-round white light in direction of gear should be showing (sidelights and stern light shown when making way through water).

These vessels need to show an all-round red light at each end and an all-round green light above the red light at the forward end to indicate the direction in which the vessel is proceeding.

Vessels operating in the vicinity of the Paynesville/Raymond Island vehicular ferry must proceed with caution and keep clear of the ferry.

Environmental and wildlife regulations

There are laws in place to help protect Victoria’s spectacular marine environment and wildlife.

Protected zones have been declared around nine shipwreck sites, six of which are in Port Phillip Bay.

It is an offence to enter a protected zone without a permit, and to damage, disturb or interfere with any historic shipwreck.

Visit the Victorian Fisheries Authority website for more information about shipwreck protected zones.

It is important to avoid getting too close to marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals while on the water.

Boats are not permitted to approach within 100m of a dolphin and within 200m of a whale, while jet skis are not permitted within 300m of either.

Caution zones apply within 300m of a whale, 150m of a dolphin and 50m of a seal, and vessels must follow specific rules such as maintaining a constant speed and avoiding sudden changes in direction.

A marine mammal approaching a vessel does not trigger an offence, but deliberately approaching closer than the prescribed distances may result in prosecution.

In a narrow waterway less than 300m wide, you cannot approach closer than 30m from a whale or dolphin, unless navigating for safe passage.

There are no restrictions on how close you can get to a seal in the water, but a vessel must be kept at least 30m from a seal on land.

Offshore marine aquaculture fisheries reserves have been established in and around Port Phillip.

Recreational users in surrounding waters should proceed with caution if near or entering the reserves, which are marked by navigation aids with ‘Aquaculture’ written on the yellow crossbar.

Visit the Victorian Fisheries Authority website for more information about aquaculture fisheries reserves.

The Victorian Government has created a system of 13 marine national parks and 11 smaller marine sanctuaries.

All forms of commercial and recreational fishing from sea or shore are prohibited, including collecting bait, line fishing, setting traps, netting and the use of spears. Heavy penalties apply.

Onshore triangles indicate the boundaries, while in-water marks are displayed on buoys and piles. Check the Victorian Fisheries Authority website for details.

Hoon laws

A person must not operate a recreational vessel at a speed or in a manner which is dangerous to the public or wildlife.

Police can seize a recreational vessel if they suspect it has been used to commit an offence. Victoria Police and Safe Transport Victoria can also stop a vessel’s use with an embargo notice for up to 48 hours, like a vehicle defect notice.

Individuals can be ordered off the water for up to 24 hours as an alternative.

GPS verification signs

Safe Transport Victoria and waterway managers have installed 16 GPS verification signs at boat ramps and jetties.To use these, get close to the sign and compare its coordinates to those on your GPS.

Ensure the GPS tracks at least five satellites and is set to the correct coordinate type and datum -the sign and GPS coordinates should agree within 15 meters or 0.008 minutes.

Differences may be due to proximity, receiver quality or GPS placement. If your GPS shows a significant variance, check the base datum and contact the manufacturer if the inaccuracy is over 0.01 minutes.

  • Lakes Entrance (three locations)
  • Marlo Jetty
  • Cape Conran
  • Sydenham Inlet
  • Mallacoota (two locations)
  • Hastings
  • Ocean Grove
  • Inverloch
  • Port Welshpool
  • Port Albert
  • Paynesville
  • Patterson River
  • Queenscliff.

Steering and sailing rules

Many collisions between vessels result from a lack of understanding of the rules of safe navigation.

The information on this page is based on the requirements of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (1972)  – COLREGs, and Victorian marine legislation.

When the vessels have the wind on the same side, the vessel which is windward shall keep out of the way of the vessel which is leeward.

When a sailing vessel with the wind on its port side sees another sailing vessel to windward and cannot determine with certainty whether that sailing vessel has the wind on its port or its starboard, it shall keep out of the way of the other sailing vessel.

Power-driven vessels shall keep out of the way of sailing vessels and rowing boats.

Power-driven vessels meeting head-on or nearly head-on, thereby at risk of collision, shall alter course to starboard so that each may pass on the port side of the other.

When two power-driven vessels are crossing, the vessel with the other on its starboard side shall keep out of the way and avoid crossing ahead of the other vessel. The other vessel must maintain its course and speed until it is apparent that the vessel required to give way is not taking appropriate action.

In narrow channels or channel approaches:

  • the master of a vessel under way in a channel or fairway must ensure that the vessel keeps to the right of the centre of the channel or fairway
  • The master of a vessel under way in a channel or fairway must ensure that the vessel keeps out of the way of a vessel that can only safely navigate within the channel or fairway
  • all vessels in narrow channels shall keep, as far as practicable, to the starboard side of the channel
  • a vessel engaged in fishing shall not impede the passage of any other vessel navigating within a narrow channel or fairway
  • a vessel shall not cross a narrow channel or fairway if such crossing impedes the passage of a vessel that can safely navigate only within such a channel or fairway.The latter vessel may use a permitted sound signal if in doubt as to the intention of the crossing vessel
  • any vessel shall, if the circumstances of the case permit, avoid anchoring in a narrow channel
  • a sailing vessel and a vessel under 20m in length shall not impede the passage of any vessel which can safely navigate only within a narrow channel or fairway

All vessels (sail and power) when overtaking another vessel during which the boats are in sight of one another shall keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken.

If a vessel is coming upon another vessel from any direction, which is more than 22.5 degrees (in the shaded arc of the diagram below) abaft her beam, it shall be deemed to be the overtaking vessel until finally past and clear.

When faced with an emergency, the vessel giving way shall take early and positive avoiding action; make course/speed alterations obvious to the other vessel; avoid crossing ahead of the vessel with right of way; and, if necessary, stop or reverse.

A series of five or more short and rapid blasts on a whistle or horn should be used to indicate that insufficient action is being taken to avoid collision.

The vessel with the right of way shall keep its course and speed. It should take avoiding action only if that taken by the giving-way vessel is insufficient. If necessary, it should take whatever action is available to keep clear and avoid a collision.

If a power-driven vessel is taking action to avoid a collision with another power-driven vessel, it shall, if possible, avoid altering course to port.

This action does not relieve the vessel operator of handling obligations.

In restricted visibility, vessels should be reduced to minimum speed. On hearing the fog signal of another vessel ahead, operators should proceed with caution until the danger of collision is over or stop until they have ascertained the danger.