Heightened risk

The following situations and activities are considered to be of heightened risk:

  • Operating alone
  • Operating at night (one hour after sunset until one hour before sunrise)
  • Crossing an ocean bar (see below) or Port Phillip Heads
  • Boating in restricted visibility
  • When the vessel is disabled
  • The vessel is operating in an area where the Bureau of Meteorology has issued a weather warning of the following kind:
    • a gale warning
    • a storm force wind warning
    • a hurricane force wind warning
    • a severe thunderstorm warning
    • a severe weather warning.

If you are boating in any of these situations, it is critical that you know how to handle your vessel and know what safety equipment you need, particularly what lifejacket you need to wear. Use the lifejacket selector on our Wear A Lifejacket website.

Crossing an ocean bar is one of the most dangerous boating activities. Make sure you are adequately prepared. If in doubt, don’t go out.

Ocean bars

Crossing a bar is always considered to be a time of heightened risk.

Key things to remember

  1. All bars have areas of broken water containing air – these areas can severely reduce the stability and handling of a vessel.
  2. Liquids and loose objects 'sloshing' from side to side may reduce the stability of the vessel, for example eskies, fish, bins and water on deck.
  3. Weather against tide is the worst time to cross a bar.
  4. Conditions on a bar change quickly and without warning.
  5. No amount of experience or boat type makes crossing a bar safe.
  6. Night crossings are more hazardous.
  7. Vessels attempting to cross a bar at, or near, low water are more likely to experience adverse conditions.

Crossing ocean bars safely

An ocean bar is an area in state waters comprising a ridge of sand or gravel near or slightly above the surface of the water that:

  • is located near or at the entrance to the sea from a bay, inlet, river or other waterway
  • extends across the mouth of that bay, inlet, river or waterway or parallel to the shore
  • is permanent or occurs from time to time.

This includes all waters within 500m of the ridge/bar.

There are many bar crossings in Victoria, including the entrances to:

  • Andersons Inlet
  • Lakes Entrance
  • Marlo
  • Barwon Heads
  • Mallacoota
  • McLoughlins Beach

You must wear a lifejacket on certain recreational vessels and hire and drive vessels during times of heightened risk, such as when crossing or attempting to cross an ocean bar.

Before heading out

  • Get local advice on bar conditions and peculiarities: Reach out to local water police, port authorities, waterway managers, fishing and boating clubs, tackle shops, chandleries, commercial operators.
  • Observe local operators crossing the bar but do not cross if you are not adequately prepared.
  • Assess weather conditions and obtain tide information.

Preparing to cross a bar

  • Ensure deck openings, hatches and doors are securely battened down.
  • Stow all loose gear and put on lifejackets if you aren’t already wearing them.

Crossing a bar

  • Monitor the:
    • prevailing wind
    • wave pattern timing, that is, look for sets
    • course to follow
    • bar traffic
    • alternate routes.
  • Motor slowly toward the breaking waves looking for the area where waves break least or not at all.
  • If there seems no break in the waves, slowly power through each oncoming wave.
  • Ensure that you are not going too fast over each wave as this would cause the vessel to ‘bottom out’ if it dives heavily.
  • If possible, make the crossing with the waves slightly on the bow so that the vessel gently rolls over the crest of each wave.
  • When approaching from sea, increase power of the vessel to catch up to the bigger set of waves and position the vessel on the back of a wave. Do not surf down the face of a wave.

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