CREW CALLING - Licence to Drive

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  • Trade-A-Boat

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It’s time to start living the dream. Stop bludging a ride in someone else’s boat and buy that yacht or powerboat. But wait! What about the boat licence? <I>Trade-a-Boat</I> staffer, JOHN PANOZZO, decides to do it properly with a two-day National Recreational Powerboat Operator course conducted by Yachting Australia

CREW CALLING - Licence to Drive
CREW CALLING - Licence to Drive

It is only a matter of time before Victoria joins the fold and introduces proof of motorboat-handling proficiency as mandatory for powerboat licences. Already, NSW, Qld, Tasmania and WA have it as such, and pressure is now being applied by NSW for Victoria to review its licensing after the former recorded an unacceptably high rate of boating incidents on the Murray River, from mostly Victorian-registered boats (see box).

So if you’re a Vic then get in quick before the inevitable changes are made, as acquiring the state’s boat licence is nothing more than a visit to a boat or related outdoor show, or by accredited private license testers. At present, it only involves a three to four-hour course in theory with an exam at the end. Course cost is between $70 and $160. Better still, just memorise the Victorian Recreational Boating Safety Handbook and sit for the exam at a VicRoads customer service centre for a cost of only $22.80, plus licence fee. Real easy. But real smart?

Trade-a-Boat understands that it’s a matter of cost and authorities sight the small number of fatalities in Victorian waters (the Murray River is in NSW) as the reason the state has not introduced actual boat-handling training as part of its boat licence regs.

NSW, Qld, Tas and WA have seen the light, making it mandatory for people to prove their ability to handle a powerboat properly and safely through an approved course, or by keeping a log, depending on the wants of the relative statutory authority. Without going into too much detail, courses in these states are held one or two days and cost as much as $200 to $350 with the licence fee on top of that.

It is only logical that national uniformity be addressed to boat licensing. Put it this way: you’re not allowed to drive an automobile without proof that you can actually drive one and, in reality, boats aren’t that much different and arguably more complex to operate safely in a marine environment than a car on terra firma.

Yachting Australia (YA), the national body for sailing in Australia, conducts a National Powerboat Scheme (NPS), a series of courses you must undertake if you want a career in pleasure boating. These are founded on the principles of competency in an ability to perform tasks and duties to a standard expected in workplace and environment.

YA says that owners of high-speed boats and sportsboats have a responsibility towards other water users, and the aim of the NPS is to make participants aware of their responsibilities in relation to state/territory, national, and international regulations, as well as know the equipment such craft must carry, and to train people to handle powerboats in a seamanlike manner.

The NPS is delivered by recognised Yachting Australia Training Centres (YATC) and other YA approved training providers (visit for a national list). The first course on the NPS syllabus is the National Recreational Powerboat Operator Certificate (NRPOC), which is what you need to gain a boat licence (sans PWC) in Victoria and certain states. The NRPOC components consist of: rules and regulations for safe powerboating; trip preparation and planning; how to safely operate a mechanically powered recreational boat; and how to respond to boating emergencies and incidents.

The editor had been on my back to get off the subs’ desk and get a boat licence, and coinciding was a letter from my local yacht club at Sandringham, announcing an NRPOC course would be conducted by Yachting Victoria, a YATC, at the club for the princely sum of $300. "Gee, it would want to be good for that price," I thought, but my inquisitive nature sold me on it.

So, along I went putting in two night sessions of four hours each and an eight-hour day out on the water with an exam at the end.

Our instructor and assessor was Bob Graham, a former bayside boat dealer and member of nearby Black Rock Yacht Club. He only had a small group of five students to deal with. Quite manageable, particularly as Graham also conducts an NRPOC for the William Angliss Institute of TAFE as part of its Resort Management Course with a larger group of students.

Referring to the Victorian Recreational Boating Safety Handbook and the National Powerboating Workbook 4th Edition, theory was relaxed but intensive and consisted of the usual stuff you need to know to get a boat licence: state and international boat laws; buoyage-system signs, marks, and lights; navigation lights and dayshapes on boats and ships; mandatory safety equipment to carry onboard; PFDs; warning sound signals; emergency beacons; speed limits; distress signals; and all that.

As well, discussion included the type of boat hulls available; how to prime and run an outboard; particular attention to the cooling system; all types of boat propulsion; trim tabs; how much fuel to carry; anchoring; introduction to marine charts; bar crossings; reading the weather; what to do if there is a fire onboard and the types of extinguishers available for particular fires; wind warnings; marine radios and usage in an emergency; hypothermia; and preparation for a trip. All informative stuff.

We were yet to get out on the water, but I was now beginning to understand the value of spending $300, compared to cheaper options — what price your life and that of your crew’s, safety is a paramount and going that extra step further to gain this more detailed insight into boating can only be a good and sensible thing.

The weather for the final day of the course was a cracker (by Melbourne standards anyway) to be out on the water: calm, barely a ripple, sunny… just a nice late-autumn day.

Once again back at Sandringham Yacht Club, Graham took us through the boatyard, pointing out the different hulls and their particular driveshafts and legs, the big travel-lift in action, the bits and pieces of an outboard.

Then it was time to don the PFDs, launch the Club’s centre-console RIB via davit, and have turns at bringing it alongside the dock, something we all found quite tricky. This brought a concerned expression over Graham’s face, particularly when I hit the throttle a wee bit hard with the RIB bolting towards the dock… in reverse. The message here is: practice, practice, and more practice.

Satisfied we had mastered the RIB — well, enough not to sink it — it was onto the club’s bigger tender, an 8m cathedral-hulled 27 Hydrofield cuddy named Boonorong, powered by twin 150hp Mercury outboards. A most stable and smooth-riding craft, we took turns at driving Boonorong out on Port Phillip Bay, and having a crack at synchronising the engines with a twin-shift throttle.

Importantly, Graham pointed out what cardinal marks, the buoyage system of the shipping lane into the Port of Melbourne, and other special marks we had learnt about in class actually looked like on the water.

The on-water tuition ended by practicing a man-overboard situation, with a fender as the hapless victim. Once again, we all had to have a go, circling around, coming round into the wind, a deckie with a boathook at the ready… thunk…
sorry champ, I’ll miss hitting you next time round. We all got it in the end.

Back at the clubroom, we sat for the exam, all passing accordingly and walked away with a Marine Safety Victoria approved training course certificate, and YA’s National Powerboat Scheme Logbook if we wished to pursue future courses, either for personal vocational studies or for a career — such as an instructor — or for marine-volunteer safety work.

Filled with new knowledge of how to get around on the briny with safety and confidence, I wondered for those Victorians who’ve never stepped aboard anything that floats. Just what qualifies them to motor a boat after a two-hour boat show exam? Theory is all good and well, but you can’t beat doing what you’re learning at the same time.

Since 1992 there have been 287 boating incidents on the Murray River (Vic-NSW), resulting in 28 deaths and 115 serious injuries, with 80 per cent of these incidents involving Victorian registered boats.

These are the sobering statistics quoted by NSW Ports and Waterways Minister, Paul McLeay. "From December last year to February 13 this year there were four fatalities and seven serious incidents. This is simply too much," he said.

NSW has jurisdiction over the Murray River to the SA border and McLeay is currently reviewing the safety-issue on the river and said it is vital to be working with Marine Safety Victoria on the matter. Among the options being considered are new licensing and education measures for Victorian boaters.

Subsequently, a discussion paper concerning the options is now available for public consultation and can be sourced online at

Submissions can be provided online, by email:; or by post to Murray River Review Recreational Boating & Regional Services Division, Locked Bag 5100, Camperdown, NSW, 1450. Submissions deadline is July 13, 2010.


by State

REQUIREMENTS: Complete approved training course, practical and theory; provide medical fitness disclosure statement
POWER RATING: Greater than 6hp

REQUIREMENTS: Complete Boating Safety Course(s); provide evidence of complying with Practical Boating Experience; and successfully sit the licence knowledge test(s).
MININIMUM AGE: 16 full licence; 12 to under-16 restricted licence
POWER RATING: Any person who drives a powered vessel for recreational purposes on NSW waters at a speed of 10kts or more must have a boat driver’s licence
LICENCE FEE: $43 (1 year); $103 (3 years); $50.50 (3-year concession)

MINIMUM AGE: 16 full licence; 12 to under-16 restricted licence
LICENCE FEE: $29.20 (1 year); $146 (5 years)

* In WA, the Recreational Skipper’s Ticket (RST) is a certificate of competency, not a licence
REQUIREMENTS: theory exam; practical assessment; medical
MINIMUM AGE: 16; over-10 can operate a boat if the motor is 6hp or less; 14 to under-16 must obtain an RST and can only operate a boat during daylight hours and at no more than 8kts
POWER RATING: 6hp or greater

REQUIREMENTS: Theory exam; medical history
MINIMUM AGE: 16 general licence; 12 to under-16 restricted licence
POWER RATING: All ratings
LICENCE FEE: $32.50; 14.50 (Special Permit)

REQUIREMENTS: Log book (phased out January 2011 for practical training course; theory exam
MINIMUM AGE: 17 full licence; 12 to under-17 provisional licence
POWER RATING: 4hp or greater

Same as NSW

What licence?


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