Sailing boats

A sailboat is propelled partly or entirely by sails but the term sailboat covers a variety of vessels, including dinghies, keelboats and yachts.

This page explains what is defined as a sailing boat under Victorian law and provides links to important safety tips to consider before heading out on the water.

Whenever it is using its engine - with or without sails - a sailing boat is considered to be a powered vessel and must act accordingly.

Definitions

Under the Marine Safety Regulations, sail boats are defined in two categories:

Off-the-beach sailing yachts

An unballasted open sailing boat, including a centreboard dinghy, skiff and multihull yacht or catamaran (excluding a cabin boat, fixed keel vessel, kiteboard or sailboard).

Yacht

A recreational vessel designed to be propelled by wind power, or a combination of wind and engine power and includes:

  • a monohull yacht
  • a trailerable yacht
  • a multihull yacht – that is ballasted or has a cabin or a fixed keel, but does not include an off-the-beach sailing yacht.

Licensing and registration

The Marine Safety Act requires that any yacht or "trailer sailer" fitted with an engine capable of being used for propulsion in Victorian waters must be registered and in a seaworthy condition. Registration must be renewed every 12 months. 

You must also hold a current marine licence to operate a registered vessel on Victorian waters. There are two types:

  • General marine licence - required by anyone 16 years of age or over operating a registered vessel
  • Restricted marine licence - required by anyone over the age of 12, and under 16, who is operating a registered vessel.

The licensing and buying and registration sections of this website have more information about getting your marine licence and buying and registering vessels.

Lifejackets

The lifejackets you are required to carry and wear depend on the size of your vessel, the waterway you are operating on and any conditions of heightened risk.

On yachts of any length

All persons aged 10 years and over must wear a:

  • Type 1 (Level 100+) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on coastal waters at times of heightened risk
  • Type 1 or 2 (Level 100+ or Level 50) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on enclosed waters at times of heightened risk
  • Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on inland waters at times of heightened risk.

Children under 10 years of age must wear a:

  • Type 1 (Level 100+) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on coastal waters
  • Type 1 or 2 (Level 100+ or Level 50) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on enclosed waters 
  • Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on inland waters.

On an off-the-beach sailing yacht

All persons must wear a:

  • Type 1 (Level 100+) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on coastal waters if more than 2nm from the coast
  • Type 1 or 2 (Level 100+ or Level 50) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on enclosed waters or on coastal waters less than 2nm from the coast
  • Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket in an open area of a vessel that is underway on inland waters.

Our Wear A Lifejacket website has everything you need to know about: lifejacket laws in Victoria; what jacket you need to wear, when; choosing the right lifejacket for your lifestyle; and looking after your lifejacket.

Other safety equipment

In addition to wearing an approved lifejacket as required, operators of sailing boats must also carry at least the minimum safety equipment for the waterway and conditions they are operating in.

The trip preparation section of this website includes a full list of the safety equipment for sail powered vessels, including more information on the individual items and how to use them. 

Keeping your vessel in good working order is not only common sense; it is a legal requirement. Look after your boat so it looks after you – maintain it after each trip and have it regularly serviced.

Safe operation 

The Marine Safety Act and the Marine Safety Regulations require that vessels are operated in a safe condition and manner, and according to the conditions of registration

Like all other boaters, sailors should make sure that they know the boating rules applicable to any waterway they intend to use (see the Vessel Operating and Zoning Rules for particulars) and the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea

As the waterways are shared by many types of vessels, both large and small, powered and unpowered, it is not uncommon for congestion to arise. A sailboat must keep clear of a vessel:

  • Not under command
  • Unable to manoeuvre easily (including large vessels navigating in or near a channel or fairway)
  • Engaged in fishing (with equipment such as trawling gear that may restrict its ability to manoeuvre).Note: this is not the only equipment carried that may restrict the vessel's ability to manoeuvre.

The safe operation section of our website has more information on vessel handling, buoyage and navigation and operating rules.

If you use a trailer

Owners and operators of trailer boats should make themselves aware of the following information on the VicRoads website, relating to towing loads on the road.

Panoramic photo of sailing boats