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Safe summer boating with ET

Andrew Ettingshausen, host of Escape with ET and ambassador for NSW Transport Marine, has always has had a lifelong passion for boating and fishing.
Andrew Ettingshausen, host of Escape with ET and ambassador for NSW Transport Marine, has always has had a lifelong passion for boating and fishing.

With the sun out and the water glistening, there is every temptation to jump in your boat and head out to the blue yonder. But, have you made sure you are safely prepared? Former NRL star Andrew Ettingshausen has forged a career on boating, producing and hosting the longstanding Escape with ET fishing and adventure program, presenting at boating and fishing shows and as ambassador for NSW Transport Marine.

“A sudden, unpredicted squall can catch even the most careful boater, so we all need to prepare and plan for the worst and keep a good lookout for tell-tale clouds and white cap waves.”

ET answers some of the most common questions boaties have on the organisation’s Boating for Life website. His wealth of experience fishing throughout Australia and the world mean he is up to date with the latest information available.

Here are a few of the most often asked questions he addresses for NSW Transport Marine.

When do I need to wear a lifejacket?

Conditions on the water can change fast and unpredictably, so don’t wait for an emergency to wear your lifejacket. It’s like wearing a seatbelt — not much use putting it on after an accident. Lifejackets save lives. They will keep you afloat until rescued if your boat should capsize or you fall overboard. It is a good idea to wear it at times of heightened risk such as:

  • Boating in poor weather conditions;
  • Travelling on the water at night;
  • When a squall or storm approaches; and
  • Crossing coastal bars when lifejackets are not just a good idea but are compulsory to wear.

If you have children on board or people who are poor swimmers, encourage them to wear their lifejacket at all times when in open areas of a boat where it is possible to fall directly overboard.

Ensure each person has a jacket of appropriate size and type.

What type of lifejacket should I get?

There are three types of lifejackets approved for recreational boating.

Level 100+ (Type 1) Lifejackets offer the highest level of protection from drowning, due to their buoyant collar which keeps you in a safe floating position in the water. There are two types: fixed buoyancy and inflatable (either auto or manually inflatable).

Level 100+ lifejackets are:

  • Compulsory to have on board for everyone on the open seas;
  • Recommended for remote inland waters, where search and rescue times may be long and conditions rough; and
  • Recommended for passengers of small boats, whenever conditions are rough.

Level 50 (Type 2) Lifejackets are suitable for aquatic sports where boating activities usually have people in support craft or nearby and rescue times are likely to be short. They are not designed to maintain a person in a safe floating position. Level 50 lifejackets are suitable for activities such as sailing, water skiing, kayaking, canoeing, wind surfing and for personal watercraft like jetskis.

Level 50 S (Type 3) Lifejackets have similar buoyancy as the Level 50 lifejacket but come in a wider range of colours. Water skiers and personal watercraft riders favour these jackets. They are not recommended for general boating use because the colours are less visible in search and rescue operations.

How many lifejackets do I need on board?

You need one lifejacket for every person on board. Make sure they are in good condition and accessible at all times.

If you have inflatable lifejackets, remember that they must be serviced at least every 12 months, or in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions, by the manufacturer or their authorised service agent.

Where can I learn what the colours and markings on all the navigation beacons signify?

Navigation markers and beacons are important aids to safe boating when travelling on any waterway.

Throughout NSW they conform to a universal system of colours and markings to indicate where prominent hazards are, although you should combine these visual guides with reference to a map or chart and local knowledge of the area, particularly when travelling in the dark.

For more information on the navigation system, pick up a copy of the free NSW Maritime Boating Handbook or go to

People talk about the skipper being responsible for keeping to a “safe speed” … what is that?

Every skipper must keep to a speed that is safe for the conditions and their craft. That means a skipper has to be alert to the ever changing nature of our waterways, whether it be due to wind, waves, currents, tides or other craft. For example, a powerboat being used in a river in calm daylight conditions may be able to move at a certain speed, but at night with wind and chop that same boat should go a lot slower. The skipper is responsible to always keep to a speed that is safe.

What advice can you give me about handling my boat in extreme conditions?

A sudden, unpredicted squall can catch even the most careful boater, so we all need to prepare and plan for the worst and keep a good lookout for tell-tale clouds and white cap waves. If you are close enough, run for the shore, a safe harbour or the lee of an island where the wind cannot generate large waves. Sudden squalls usually only last for a short period and sometimes precede a change in wind direction, usually blowing at much stronger speeds than the wind that will follow.

If you doubt your chances of safely running back to harbour you may prefer to ride out the initial onslaught by keeping your bow into the wind and waves. The main criteria is to keep a speed sufficient to allow you to steer the vessel, but no faster. Without power to maintain steerage, a vessel will drift side on (beam on) to the sea and be vulnerable to capsize. A sea anchor, or a strong bucket tied to the bows will help to keep you pointing into the waves should your engine fail.

Make sure everyone on board always wears their lifejackets at times of heightened risk. Report your situation to rescue authorities, secure all moveable items in the boat so that they do not become missiles, ensure everyone is holding on firmly and have the EPIRB ready for use in case of capsize. If that occurs, stay with the boat unless very close to shore.

How do I get the latest weather information?

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology issues forecasts each day at around 5:00am, 10:30am and 4:00pm.

Warnings for strong winds (winds averaging 25 to 33 knots), gale force winds (34 to 47 knots) and storm force (48 knots or more) are issued when necessary and updated every six hours. Forecasts and warnings are broadcast frequently over AM and FM radio stations. Warnings are also available by phoning 1300 659 218 and selecting Option 3. Or visit the Bureau’s website for the latest forecast, as well as important information about the terminology used to describe wind speeds and wave heights.

Who should I advise before setting out on a boating trip?

Leave a copy of your route plan with a reliable person who can sound the alarm to the relevant authorities if you’re overdue or missing. Include a description of your vessel, planned stops, number and names of passengers and when you expect to return. Also use the marine radio network on VHF, HF or 27 MHz to log on and provide trip details. Always remember to log off upon arrival at your destination to avoid needless searches.

For more information about the marine radio network including a map with the locations, call signs and frequencies of VMR stations, visit

How do I know if my boat is suitable?

Different hull shapes suit different water conditions and loads. The design, construction, stability, flotation and maintenance will all be factors in the safety and performance of your vessel. Boats also have minimum power needs and maximum power limitations. Boats designed for use on inland or sheltered waters are not usually suited for use in open waters or along the coast where waves are larger. And the right size boat will depend on the number of people you intend to carry, the amount of equipment, provisions and goods you intend to load into it, as well as the type of conditions you expect to experience.

Boats fitted with appropriate internal buoyancy such as foam, will remain afloat when capsized or swamped. This improves the chances of rescue and survival in the event of an incident, particularly in isolated areas or offshore. Most boats built on or after 1 July 2006 must have an Australian Builders Plate attached which gives safety information including buoyancy performance.

When considering a longer trip or one in more open waters than your normal boating area, it may be a good idea to consult with the manufacturer of your boat or a person with appropriate marine knowledge who can assess its suitability for the proposed passage.

More Information

For more advice from ET, and other boating information, go to

About the author

Alana Lowes

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