Travelling by boat
Travelling by boat can be a great way to get a new perspective on your destination or to have fun on the water. This page will help you understand the risks and take appropriate precautions before you head out on the water.
Read this page for information on:
- local water travel
- water activities and watercraft
- territorial waters and exclusion zones
- reducing the risk of piracy
This page is about getting around by boat and using watercraft. If you're planning a holiday on a cruise ship, see going on a cruise.
Local water travel
Hundreds of people die every year in boat accidents. Search and rescue services overseas may not have the same capabilities as those in Australia.
Inter-island ferries and rivercraft may be overloaded, poorly maintained and lack life-saving equipment.
To stay safe on the water:
- check safety standards are in place
- check there is enough safety equipment for everyone
- avoid travelling after dark
- don't get on overcrowded boats
On smaller watercraft, wear your life jacket at all times.
Water activities and watercraft
If you’re planning to do activities on (or under) the water, know the risks.
This includes activities like going on a yacht, catamaran, jet ski or speedboat. It also includes activities that involve a boat, such as water skiing, wake boarding and diving.
Security deposits on watercraft
It's common for operators to ask for a security deposit when renting out watercraft or equipment. Usually, this is cash or a 'security hold (temporary charge) on your credit card. Sometimes they want an identity document.
- Never give your passport as a deposit. It’s a valuable document, protect it. Don't become a victim of identity theft (Australian Federal Police).
- Don't leave someone with your credit card. Never let it out of sight, or let someone write down the number.
If an operator insists on holding on to your passport or credit card, go elsewhere. It could be a scam.
Staying safe on and under the water
- Only go with an operator with high standards. Check their safety standards before you book.
- Always use the right safety equipment, even if others don't. This includes life jackets or seat belts. It also includes helmets for some activities.
- If an operator doesn't provide safety equipment, go with someone else.
- Check your travel insurance. Make sure it covers you for all your activities, in water or on land.
Stay within the law
Know the local laws on the water. Just like driving a vehicle on the road, if you break the law on the water you could be arrested or jailed. It also increases the risk that you'll have an an accident. Medical assistance is expensive overseas, and you may void your travel insurance.
- Learn the local laws and etiquette on the water. There could be speed limits, exclusion zones, keeping left or right and rules on who has the right of way. Find out.
- There may be laws around alcohol on the water. Sailing or riding a watercraft while under the influence is usually illegal. And dangerous.
- You may need a local licence to sail or ride (pilot) a watercraft. Find out if you need a local licence. If so, don't take control of a vehicle without it on you.
- Safety equipment may be a legal requirement. For the pilot and their passengers. In some countries, only certified equipment is legal. Find out first.
Territorial waters and maritime exclusion zones
Many countries patrol and defend their territorial waters from unauthorised vessels.
- Find out where the maritime borders are. Like on land, you can't cross a border without the right visa.
- Countries sometimes contest maritime borders. Patrols may confront you for being in their territory, even if the international community deems it isn't.
- Countries may declare exclusion zones around coastal areas. They're often near sensitive government infrastructure such as military bases.
Find out where these areas are on your route. Take care not to stray into them, unless you have the right visa. You could be arrested or jailed.
Outside these areas, you're in international waters. You must follow the Convention of the Law of the Sea (United Nations).
All forms of shipping are attractive targets for pirates. This includes commercial vessels, pleasure craft (such as yachts) and luxury cruise ships.
Piracy is a problem in both coastal and international waters around the world. Some areas are especially high risk.
For more information, see our advice on reducing your risk of piracy.
- Read our travel advice for your planned destinations.
- Going on a cruise? Read our cruising page.
- See our information and advice on reducing the risk of piracy.
- Find out what to do in the event of a tsunami.
- See our advice about avoiding kidnapping.
We advise all Australians to not travel overseas at this time, including on international cruises. Disruptions to cruise ship itineraries due to COVID-19 can have significant consequences for travellers. The situation is fluid and you can expect further disruptions.