A sailing boat is propelled partly or entirely by sails – including dinghies, skiffs and yachts.
Sailors must wear a lifejacket and carry safety equipment onboard. There are extra requirements if your craft is motorised, or if you’re heading more than 2 nautical miles offshore.
Whenever using its engine, with or without sails, sailing boat operators must follow the rules for powered vessels.
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Types of sailing boats
Under the Marine Safety Regulations 2012 (Vic), sailing boats are defined in two categories:
Off-the-beach sailing yacht means an unballasted open yacht; including a centreboard dinghy, skiff and multihull yacht (excluding cabin boat, fixed keel vessel, kiteboard, sailboard or stand-up paddle board)
Yacht means a vessel that is designed to be propelled by wind power, or a combination of wind and engine power; including a monohull yacht, trailerable yacht, and multihull yacht — that is ballasted or has a cabin or a fixed keel (excluding off-the-beach sailing yacht)
Licensing and registration
The Marine Safety Act 2010 (Vic) requires that any yacht or “trailer sailer” fitted with an engine capable of being used for propulsion in Victorian waters must be registered and in a seaworthy condition.
You must also hold a current marine licence to operate a registered vessel on Victorian waters.
Learn how to Prepare to Survive:
- Wear a lifejacket
- Lock in a buddy plan
- Carry a distress beacon
- Practise getting back on
- Know the weather
The lifejackets you are required to carry and wear depend on the size of your vessel, the waterway you are operating on and any conditions of heightened risk.
On an off-the-beach sailing yacht
All persons must wear a:
- Type 1 (Level 100+) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on coastal waters if more than 2nm from the coast
- Type 1 or 2 (Level 100+ or Level 50) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on enclosed waters or on coastal waters less than 2nm from the coast
- Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket in an open area of a vessel that is underway on inland waters.
On yachts of any length
All persons aged 10 years and over must wear a:
- Type 1 (Level 100+) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on coastal waters at times of heightened risk
- Type 1 or 2 (Level 100+ or Level 50) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on enclosed waters at times of heightened risk
- Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on inland waters at times of heightened risk.
Children under 10 years of age must wear a:
- Type 1 (Level 100+) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on coastal waters
- Type 1 or 2 (Level 100+ or Level 50) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on enclosed waters
- Type 1, 2 or 3 (Level 100+, Level 50 or level 50S) lifejacket when in an open area of a vessel that is underway on inland waters.
Our Wear A Lifejacket website has everything you need to know about: lifejacket laws in Victoria; what jacket you need to wear, when; choosing the right lifejacket for your lifestyle; and looking after your lifejacket.
Other safety equipment
In addition to wearing an approved lifejacket as required, operators of sailing boats must also carry at least the minimum safety equipment for the waterway and conditions they are operating in.
Check the required safety equipment for sailing boats.
Victorian laws require that vessels are operated in a safe condition and manner, and according to the conditions of registration.
Like all other boaters, sailors should make sure that they know the boating rules applicable to any waterway they intend to use (see the Vessel Operating and Zoning Rules for particulars) and the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (1972) – COLREGs.
As the waterways are shared by many types of vessels, both large and small, powered and unpowered, it is not uncommon for congestion to arise. A sailboat must keep clear of a vessel:
- Not under command
- Unable to manoeuvre easily (including large vessels navigating in or near a channel or fairway)
- Engaged in fishing (with equipment, such as trawling gear, that may restrict its ability to manoeuvre).
The safe operation section of our website has more information on vessel handling, buoyage and navigation and operating rules.
Improve your skills
Find a sailing or yacht club on the Australian Sailing website.
Courses: Learn to sail with Discover Sailing. Australian Sailing also offers a Safety & Sea Survival course.
If you use a trailer
Owners and operators of trailer boats should be aware of the oversize light vehicles requirements on the VicRoads website.