Call For National Life Jacket Uniformity

WIA Encourage Wearing A PFD At All Times!
WIA Encourage Wearing A PFD At All Times!

One of the primary reasons for launching Wear It Australia was to provide a single entry point for access to Australian state governments’ rules and regulations for the wearing of life jackets. With no national governing body – unlike many other countries – the rules for life jacket wear are mandated by each state legislator.

For any boatie, this can become extremely confusing but can, no doubt, be a “nice little earner” for the various government enforcement agencies! With the introduction of different types of water activities and craft – like paddle boards – in recent years, this has subsequently been followed with the introduction of more new rules to suit each new activity.

We now have a vast range of personal flotation devices (PFD’s) to apparently suit every craft and context and the high level of cross-over between the activity and ocean conditions has prompted one of our readers to submit this story as a point of discussion.

Gary W writes:
“I have just spoken with the Maritime Services in NSW. I have been researching the requirements for life jackets in NSW and QLD and I found there was a lack of clear definition in the NSW legislation, which now that I have raised it, they will be looking into and fixing. I was referred to your site for reference.
The point I raised was that their recommendations were not clear as to which category sit-on-top kayaks and surf skis fell into. In the past there had been exemptions which had not been put back in the new regulations. They are not really a vessel as you are not enclosed like a canoe and they don’t fit into the category of a flotation device like a surfboard.
They agreed that their blanket requirement for mandatory Type1 PFD for crossing bars conflicts with their specification for Type 1, 2 or 3 for open water. They also agreed that a PFD1 may cause some difficulty in the necessary freedom of movement for negotiating a bar, which they agreed was similar to beach wave surfing. I pointed out that there are many who use the bar breaks for recreational surfing on kayaks/surf skis. It was agreed that there was a need for some Type of flotational device, as the deaths in the competitions at Kirrawa had highlighted, however an automatically inflating one could be problematic when a surfer was being submerged quite often and a self inflated one would pose a risk if knocked unconscious.
The standard PFD1 is extremely bulky and not really suitable and the likelihood of a kayak/ski user of wearing one was minimal. It was stated that for an experienced operator, that any Type of PFD would do. Although personally I think it is wise to use a Type 2 as a minimum for most people.
In the past there was an exemption for a Bronze medallion holder but this is fine only if the person is not knocked unconscious so I would not like to see this back in legislation.
I have also looked at the QLD regulations which are not that clear either and refer to the NSW regulations, which I found unusual.
What I would like to see is some kind of uniformity and clarity in this area as there are a lot of people who use the beaches, bars and enclosed waters in both states. The use of kayaks/surf skis for multiple use such as fishing, wave surfing etc is increasing and the retailers of safety equipment such as the larger sporting goods/camping equipment stores often have uninformed staff who are selling people the wrong PFD for the application.
I believe there is a need for the right information which is consistent nationally, to be available for easy reference and maybe people who are able to advise the respective agencies in each state to speak up on this issue.
I would love to hear your opinion on this matter as your site is used for reference
“Gary W”

Footnote: Gary W has submitted his full name and contact details to WIA.

One idea worth floating (forgive the pun) is that, with the exception of minors who need to be protected from their own or their parents’ stupidity, our confusing and contradictory legislation be abandoned in favour of education campaigns to encourage the voluntary wearing of life jackets based on a Three C’s Principle –


In other words, instilling personal responsibility based on the type of craft you are using, the water/weather conditions, the context you are using it in and the potential negative consequences for yourself and others if you choose not to wear a life jacket.

If you believe that you might just have an answer to Gary’s question – apart from handing over the role of legislator to a national body like AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority who mainly focus on the commercial and not the recreational sector) – we at Wear It Australia would welcome your comments and suggestions.


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