Maritime Safety Plan
2017 - 2021

8 out of 10
people who drown when boating, are not wearing a life jacket.

The Plan
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In NSW, we have some of the finest navigable waterways in Australia. Over the past five years, the NSW Government has invested more than $500 million in delivering services and infrastructure to the NSW maritime community. 

Great results have been achieved over the past few years which have increased safety on the water. This includes raising the lifejacket wear rate from 9 per cent in 2007 to 45 per cent in 2015-16. 

As a priority, the NSW Government is working to reduce trauma on our waterways across the State. The Maritime Safety Plan forms a key part of this important Government objective.

NSW’s Waterways Safety Targets
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Through innovation and the pursuit of continual improvements in safety and infrastructure statewide, there is an opportunity to further reduce trauma and enhance quality of life for the maritime public.


30% reduction of fatalities and serious injuries by 2021


ZERO number of fatalities by 2056

The Vision
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The Maritime Safety Plan 2021 sets the strategic direction in maritime safety in NSW. The objective of this plan is to continue the downward trend in the drowning fatality rate – and to further reduce the rate of fatalities and serious injuries on NSW waterways recorded in 2014 by 30 per cent by the end of 2021.


Our longer term vision is to achieve zero fatalities and zero serious injuries by 2056.


In 2056 there will be zero fatalities and serious injuries on NSW navigable waterways. This plan will continue the journey to zero. By countering the main causal factors and precisely targeting the significant issues, we can bring the numbers of fatalities and serious injuries down. The initiatives found in this plan are designed with this vision of an accessible and safe waterway with zero boating fatalities recorded.

Safe System
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NSW is adopting the internationally recognised Safe Systems approach to transport safety. This plan adapts the Safe Systems methodology to the maritime environment to reduce trauma, and introduces it to the NSW waterways for the first time. 

Safe Systems focuses on understanding and countering issues that cause trauma on the water and takes a holistic view of the interacting elements. The elements include safe people, safe vessels and safe waterways. 

  • People make mistakes: some boating incidents are inevitable.
  • People are vulnerable: human bodies have a limited ability to withstand crash forces, submersion and exposure to weather conditions.
  • Safety is a shared responsibility: system designers and the maritime public share responsibility for managing boating incidents.
  • All parts of the system must be strengthened: including vessel design, safety equipment, infrastructure, access points, communication and aids to navigation. If one part fails, other parts will still protect the people involved.
Maritime Safe Systems representation in a circle

Improving the Waterways
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Maritime initiatives in the plan are intended to address specific safety issues and reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries, while also increasing access, quality of life and the sustainability of the waterways.

Over the past 10 years to 30 June 2017 there were 117 fatal incidents on state waters, resulting in 132 fatalities. The plan identifies a total of 81 priority actions and listed below are the top 10 priority safety issues as they cause statistically significant incidents.

  • Increasing lifejacket wear
  • Adverse weather conditions
  • Towing activities
  • Excess speed
  • Poor judgement
  • Paddle craft
  • Excess alcohol and drugs
  • No proper lookout
  • Cold water
  • Personal water craft (PWC)

Initiatives to ensure safer waterways, speeds, people and vessels need to be implemented together so the waterways system not only keeps us moving, but is safe and protected.

A detailed listing of the committed initiatives and those to investigate can be found from p24 of the Plan pdf.


Man on a motor boat

Wear a Lifejacket
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Lifejacket wear rates are up 400 percent since 2007, the best safety record for fatalities in 40 years was achieved recently. There has been a significant, long-term decline in the number of recreational boating fatalities caused by drowning.

The evidence indicates improved lifejacket wear rates are helping to reduce recreational boating fatalities.

Man in lifejacket rescuing a person

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Maritime safety in NSW benefits from an integrated advisory group structure, interconnected maritime safety agencies and over 50 maritime safety partners from industry, federal, state and international government and community groups, and associations.

Numerous agencies and organisations exist to encourage and enhance maritime infrastructure and safety in a whole-of-system and cohesive manner. Each stakeholder brings a different focus, perspective, expertise and methodology to reaching their goals.

In developing this plan, the Centre for Maritime Safety has sought the expertise and input of key boating and waterway activity industry associations and representative organisations.

The consultation activities have led to a plan that incorporates evidentiary analysis, including input from an independent social scientist and practical expertise and knowledge from key stakeholders with various roles relevant to boating and water activities in NSW.

Latest News
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Combining Efforts to Stop Drownings Launched at Sydney International Boat Show - 2 August 2018

The Sydney International Boat Show is making water safety a talking point with new partnerships to tackle drownings between Transport for NSW, The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Boating Industry Association.

“The use of lifejackets in NSW has achieved record levels over the past 10 years and that has contributed to a significant decline in drownings,” a Transport for NSW Spokesperson said.

“However, drowning is still the leading cause of maritime fatalities in NSW and further effort is needed to reduce these deaths.”

Transport for NSW and the World Health Organization are delivering an International Lifejacket Forum and a Technical Workshop at the Boat Show aimed at boosting the number of people wearing lifejackets not only in NSW, but globally.

“Each year, more than 360,000 lives are lost to drowning around the world. Many are preventable and lifejackets are an important part of drowning prevention,” said Dr David Meddings from the WHO.  

“The forum and workshop will bring together the lifejacket design and manufacturing industry, standards organisations, public health practitioners and maritime safety authorities to discuss the range of barriers to lifejacket wearing.

“The WHO hopes that the dialogue we begin here in Sydney can lead to a global initiative to address barriers to lifejacket wear, with a particular focus on cost, and contribute to preventing the unacceptably high burden of drowning we see globally, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. The more we work together, the more lives can be saved.”

Transport for NSW partnership with the Boating Industry Association will deliver the Safety Zone at the Boat Show along with further collaborations statewide throughout the year to promote boating safety.

An educational and interactive area, the Safety Zone draws together government and non-government safety organisations to promote safe, responsible and enjoyable boating.

The Boat Show is being held through until 6 August at Darling Harbour’s International Convention Centre.

The Maritime Safety Plan targets a 30 percent reduction in serious injuries and fatalities by 2021, moving towards zero in 2056.

Read the plan (PDF, 2MB).

Each year an estimated 2 million people, or 25 per cent of the NSW population, take part in recreational boating and watercraft activity.

2 million