Safety around ships

Recreational boaters have a responsibility to stay well clear of large vessels. You are prohibited from impeding the passage of big ships in shipping channels.

What you need to know

All boat operators should take note of the following:

  • Big ships operate at all times of the day and night.
  • The speed of a ship can be deceptive. It may not look like it from a distance, but they could be travelling at speeds in excess of 20 knots.
  • Ships can weigh up to 100,000 tonnes and do not have brakes. They cannot stop or change course suddenly and will travel a long distance before stopping.
  • A ship's blind spot can extend for many hundreds of metres ahead (see diagram below)
  • Bow waves caused by a ship can swamp a small boat hundreds of metres away.
  • Sailing vessels do not have right of way over ships restricted in their ability to manoeuvre.
  • A ship will sound five short blasts on its whistle if it believes a smaller vessel is at risk of collision. Small vessels must take evasive action immediately.

As this diagram shows, a ship's blind spot can extend for many hundreds of metres ahead.

Diagram showing how a ship's blindspot can extend for many 100s of metres

Transit only zone

A transit only zone is a regulated area of water in the vicinity of a commercial shipping channel or fairway. Recreational craft must not anchor or drift within these zones.

The purpose of designating a transit only zone is:

  1. To avoid potential collisions between small boats and large commercial ships
  2. For the safety of small boat operators and their passengers.

Learn about the transit only zone in Port Phillip Bay

Map of the transit only zone in Port Phillip Bay, which extends from Point Gellibrand (Williamstown) south to an imaginary line at latitude 38° South. Yellow

Harbour Master's Directions

Harbour Master's Directions (HMDs) can include specific directions for recreational vessels to keep out of the way of ships and vessels engaged in port operations. In port waters the relevant harbourmaster may make special directions concerning the navigation and operation of recreational vessels.

In port waters for Port of Geelong, Port of Melbourne and Port of Portland the following directions apply.

The master of a vessel less than 25m in length shall ensure that the vessel keeps out of the way of:

  1. Vessels more than 25m in length
  2. A tug or launch assisting the movement, berthing or unberthing of another vessel
  3. The master of another vessel less than 25m in length shall ensure the vessel does not approach within 30m of a ship berthed at a tanker terminal.

Read Victorian Habour Masters Directions (HMDs)

Local port management

Port managers are responsible for the operation and maintenance of local ports, including:

  • Planning
  • Issuing permits and licences
  • Allocating moorings
  • Maintaining wharves, jetties and navigation aids
  • Dredging
  • Operating facilities such as slipways, and
  • Constructing new facilities.

Victoria's local ports

  • Gippsland Lakes
  • Corner Inlet and Port Albert
  • Snowy River
  • Mallacoota
  • Anderson Inlet
  • Port Phillip and Western Port
  • Port Fairy
  • Apollo Bay
  • Warrnambool
  • Port Campbell
  • Lorne
  • Barwon Heads
  • Portland Bay

You can find a full list of local port management bodies and their contact details on the Department of Transport website.

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