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Comprehensive Guide to Boating

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Posted on 29th March 2019

If you’re wondering how to get into boating, it’s a cruisy process – as long as you have the information you need to find the right boat for you. From regular boaters to beginners, this is your ultimate guide to boating.

Acting as a boating how to, this guide will cover:

With numerous checklists along the way, this guide to boating will help you discover your ideal boat and get ready to head out on the water as soon as possible.

Types of recreational boats

With so many types of recreational boats available on the market, deciding on the right one can be a challenge. Designed for specific uses and budgets, they come in a range of different styles, shapes and materials such as fibreglass or alloy. We’ve discussed the different types of boats you can choose from below.

Bowrider

Bowriders are designed with family sports boating in mind and are the perfect choice for water sports lovers (water skiing, tubing, waking, etc.). They provide the space you need to cruise comfortably. Featuring a driver seat, spacious seating area for passengers and swim platforms at the stern, this type of boat is great for family outings and solo cruises. Wake towers can also be added for avid water sports enthusiasts. Many bowriders have the crossover functionality to double as fishers or family day boats.

Centre console

Maximising your space around the boat, centre console boats give you a 360° casting area and superior visibility. Most popular with recreational users and sports fishermen, these boats can take you through rough waters offshore and provide plenty of storage and deck space onboard for all your fishing gear.

Some features you can usually find on a centre console include:

  • Rod holders
  • Outriggers
  • Bait wells
  • Underfloor storage 

Cuddy cabin

Providing a decent space for fishing, a cuddy cabin also features a closed deck over the bow – working as a handy refuge for a snooze or a large gear-storage space. Some also feature a walk through dash for easy access to the bow and anchor. These versatile boats are ideal for family cruising, fishing, and water sports.

Cabin cruiser

Cabin cruisers are a great choice for boating families as they provide onboard accommodation and a number of amenities to make for a comfortable day on the water including head and berth and sometimes even a toilet and galley. A cabin cruiser is a bigger boat to handle but this can also mean a more stable ride. For avid fishermen, a cabin cruiser allows extra comforts, especially if heading out for long-range offshore fishing trips. With plenty of deck space, side pockets, underfloor storage and live bait tanks, these boats offer plenty of features and being so versatile make for a great “all rounder” choice.

Inflatable

One of the most manoeuvrable boats around, inflatable boats are available as either a rigid or roll-up inflatable. Staying light on the water, the body is filled with pressurised gas in flexible tubes and come in a number of different sizes. Whether your inflatable is powered with a 2hp or a 250hp outboard, you can take it on freshwater and saltwater for a day of cruising, fishing, or general all-out fun.

Runabout

Designed to be open, most often with a walk through dash/windscreen, a runabout features convenient comforts while also being a “practical” choice for fishing enthusiasts. With two forward seats and usually with a lounge at the rear, it’s an ideal boat for family outings, fishing and general cruising. Although a runabout usually has less storage space, it’s a popular boat for people new to boating who want to start with a fuss-free option with basic features.

Sailboat

Utilising wind power, a sailboat is propelled completely or partly by wind. Available in a range of sizes – with different capabilities – sailboats can differ in the configuration of the hull, the number of sails, and the keel type. Made for a more exciting experience, sailing rivers and seas is incredibly rewarding on a sailboat.

Flybridge cruiser

A flybridge cruiser seats the driver on the upper helm. This gives them a full view of the fore, aft and sides of the cruiser. It also opens up the lower helm for family and friends to enjoy the abundance of space on board.

Wakeboard boat

These boats are designed for play. Creating a huge wake behind them, they shape the water for wakeboarders to complete tricks off of. Commonly powered by an inboard motor at the rear of the boat, they provide maximum power and an optimal wake for plenty of fun on the water.

Gameboat

If you’re out for big game, a gameboat has been designed to optimise your efforts – from locating gamefish, to hooking them on rough water. Many gameboats will feature amenities for long trips, including:

  • A sleeping berth
  • Toilet
  • Cooking area
  • Fish storage

Motoryacht

Larger than many boats, a motoryacht can conquer open water for several weeks. Each amenity is covered, with a galley, sleeping berth, power generator, air conditioning and efficient plumbing. This makes it the perfect vessel for family trips through rivers or for crossing large bodies of water. And with the helm safe in the cabin, long cruises are luxurious.

Catamaran

Whether they’re powered by a motor or sails, catamarans are purpose-built for seamless cruising or serious fishing. With two hulls, these boats can remain steadier on rough water. They also have a shallower draft, decreasing water resistance and the power needed to move.

Aluminium vs. fibreglass boats

The most common materials boats are built from are aluminium and fibreglass. But that raises the question: which one is right for you? Each have their own benefits and costs, which you can find below.

Pros and cons of aluminium boats

Aluminium is a tough metal, taking impacts and grazes like a champion. But how long do aluminium boats last in the long term? Well, if the required upkeep is undertaken, they can have a remarkably long boating life. The biggest downside you may face, however, is that a long ride in some aluminium boats can become uncomfortable.

Pros and cons of fibreglass boats

Aesthetic and smooth on all bodies of water, buying a fibreglass boat is an easy choice for many boaters. Although, both the fibreglass and wood (if it features timber reinforcements) are vulnerable to rot, if they absorb water and not maintained correctly.

Everyone will value the pros and cons of fibreglass boats differently. So it’s up to you to decide if it fits what you’re after, or if an aluminium boat is the ideal choice.

Aluminium

Fibreglass

Pros

Cons

Pros

Cons

Cheaper

Lightweight

Durable

Noisy on rough water

Less comfortable cruise

Potential corrosion

Sleek design

Simple repairs

Easy maintenance

Potential osmosis

Potential wood rot

More maintenance

 

Boat ownership

There are many factors that affect the cost of owning a boat. Some of these are often hidden and only discovered when a new boat owner faces them. So, working out the sum of boating costs is a crucial step before you make your next purchase.

Some of the costs you’ll come across with boat ownership and usage will include:

  • Boating necessities: registration, licensing fees, insurance.
  • Boat safety equipment: life jackets, fire extinguishers.
  • Onboard essentials: oars, ropes, fishing gear, fuel.
  • Boat storage: mooring or dry storage.
  • Maintenance: upkeep costs and motor servicing maintenance.
  • Trailer: registration and servicing costs. 

Buying a Boat

So, you’ve made the exciting decision to buy a boat. Let’s address the main factors you should be considering when finally purchasing a new or used boat. No matter the reason you’re getting one, these boat buying tips will help guide you through your purchase.

Buying a new boat

Buying your own new boat gives you access to the latest developments in boating technology and design and gives you more customisation options (although each of these extras is an added cost). It also means you get the honour of taking it on its first voyage, with no uncertainty over its history. And powered by a new motor, your initial maintenance costs won’t be as high.

The largest downside when you buy a new boat, however, is the higher cost. Even if you take out a boat loan, the upfront deposit and overall repayments do add up. And by the time it’s completely paid off, strong depreciation will have affected its value.

Buying a used boat

Not everyone’s after the perks of a new boat. Sometimes the affordable option to buy used boats gets people exactly what they need – at a lower cost. Although the initial price may be lower, you can experience other costs you may not have been expecting (especially if the boat has had an extensive history). Just make sure you go through a trusted dealer or reliable seller who you can rely on for transparency.

To make sure a second-hand boat is up to scratch, we’ve put together a used boat buying guide. Outlining the items that need to be checked and tested, you can better determine if it’s a worthwhile investment. When you do come to the point where you’re buying a second hand boat, following this checklist can save you a future of costs and worries.

Buying outboard motors

Powering your boat, the right outboard motor will completely change your boating experience. Whether you need quick acceleration and a fast cruising speed for water sports, or fuel efficiency for long fishing days, you can find one to best suit your needs. These tips will help you make a more informed decision when you buy an outboard motor.

Types of boat motors

When you’re searching for outboards to buy, the two most common types of boat motors you’ll see are 4-stroke and 2-stroke. Both these types of motors provide their own benefits and drawbacks. It’s up to you to choose from the types of boat motors, finding the one that works for you.

Due to recent emissions standards imposed on non-road spark ignition engines and equipment such as outboards and mowers, 2-stroke outboards will no longer be imported into and sold in Australia if they do not meet emissions regulations.


For those beginning their boating journey, purchasing a used outboard is very common. However, there are numerous risks and costs when you buy used boat motors. These should be considered before any purchase is made.Buying used boat motors

Whether you buy directly from someone or go through a dealer, boat motors can face the same problems. These can include:

  • damage
  • misuse
  • lack of service
  • expired warranties
  • decreased efficiency

How to ensure that a used outboard motor is in good condition

It’s difficult to know whether the used motor you’re interested in buying is in decent condition. The best way to know if the outboard you’re buying will perform well is to test it out yourself. But there are other procedures you can take as well. These include:

  • Tests and trials: assessing multiple aspects of its performance.
  • Visual assessment: judging how it’s been used and stored.
  • Background check: asking for any records and service bills.

If you’re still unsure, you can take it to an experienced outboard mechanic or service agent to have it inspected prior to purchasing it for peace of mind.

When purchasing an outboard motor, the most important elements you’ll need to check and focus your tests on are: compression, sparks and the state of the lower unit.

To ensure you’re making a wise decision on your used outboard motor, follow our checklist below. It takes you through the factors you’ll need to consider and what you can do to properly test the engine. 

Recreational boat registration and licensing

Before you get on your local waterways or onto the high seas, you’ll need the correct boating licence and boat registration. Thankfully, getting a boat licence can be a simple process. Whether you need it for a specific use, or would like a recreational boating licence, we’ll take you through the steps.

Boat registration in Australia

Due to different legislation between Australian states, the requirements for your boat registration will vary depending on where you live. The below information shows the price and requirements to get your boat rego sorted.

State Requirements Fees & charges
NSW & ACT

Ranges from: $66–$663 

Click here for further breakdown of fees.

QLD

Ranges from: $108.90–$817.30 

Click here for further breakdown of fees.

VIC
  • Post registration application and make an appointment with VIC roads.
At the Appointment:
  • Provide evidence of your identity
  • Submit your paperwork that includes the Vessel (Boat & PWC) registration form [PDF 247 Kb]
  • Pay the vessel registration fee (by VISA, MasterCard*, cheque, EFTPOS or cash) relevant to your vessel (based on vessel length).

Ranges from: $41.90–$87.40 

Click here for further breakdown of fees.

WA
  • Must be at least 14 years old
  • New boat registration form (available below).
  • Hull Identification Number (HIN) certificate.
  • Proof of identity.
  • Proof of acquisition, this may include any of the following:
    • Bill of Sale.
    • Detailed receipt.
    • Consignment note.
    • Offer to purchase or any document that provides evidence of ownership. For example, a statutory declaration.

Ranges from: $121.20–$745.90 

Click here for further breakdown of fees.

SA
  • Measure the length of your boat
  • Estimate the registration fee and facilities levy
  • Prepare proof of ownership
  • Prepare evidence of identity
  • Complete the application form
  • Display the registration number on your boat
  • Fit hull identification number (HIN) plates
  • Registration documents
 https://www.sa.gov.au/topics/boating-and-marine/boat-registration/registering-a-motorboat

Ranges from: $24–$659 

Click here for further breakdown of fees.  

TAS
  • Complete a registration form available from MAST or Service Tasmania.
  • A registration fee will apply
  • A certificate of boat registration and label will be sent by mail
  • Registration renewals are mailed in November each year
  • The registration label is to be placed so that it is visible from outside the vessel
  • Registration numbers must be 150 mm high and displayed on each side of the vessel
  • A capacity label will also need to be displayed.

Ranges from: $ 

Click here for further breakdown of fees. 

Requirements for getting a boat licence in Australia

To successfully receive your boat licence, you’ll need to pass a knowledge test and provide photo ID to prove you meet the minimum age. However, similar to boat registration, meeting specific boat licence requirements will be different between states. The below table displays the boat licence age and boat licence cost in each state in Australia.

State Age requirements Fees & charges
NSW & ACT 12 Boat licence: $61
QLD 16 Boat licence: $110.40
VIC 12 Boat licence: $36.10–$180.50
WA 14 Boat licence: $28
SA 16 Boat licence: $41
TAS Provisional licence: 12–17, Full: 17 Provisional boat licence: $17.38Boat licence: $64.78

Boat safety

To keep you, your boat and your family safe on the water, you’ll need the right equipment and knowledge. This safe boating guide should get you ready to set out with confidence and peace of mind – optimising your boat safety and preparing you for a range of dangers.

Boat safety equipment and gear

In order to operate your boat, there’s mandatory boat safety gear you’ll need to carry on deck. There are also many other items of boat safety equipment that are highly recommended. From emergency beacons to firefighting equipment, adhering to boat safety kit requirements will give you lifesaving solutions to any problems you may face.

Boat safety checklist

Being prepared on the water can save your life. This boat safety equipment list provides the mandatory items that are required to be on your boat at all times, as well as recommended equipment to increase the overall safety of your boat.

Boating weather

Some weather conditions are terrible for certain boating activities and play a huge role in safe boating. This is why it’s important to understand ideal boating weather and to plan your trip before you leave. An easy way to be one step ahead of Aussie weather is to download (for free) one of the best marine weather apps in Australia.

You can choose from:

  • Seabreeze
  • FishWeather
  • MyRadar NOAA Weather Radar
  • And many more

Boat towing guide

There are road rules and legal requirements for safely towing your boat. But most of all, you’ll need to ensure your vehicle can take on the extra weight. This boat towing guide defines the different types of weights and explains how you can check if your vehicle is up to the challenge.

Towing weights

The first thing to understand are the types of weights, from knowing your boat trailer weight, to the mass of your towing vehicle. These are the most important definitions you’ll need to know:

  • Tare mass: the mass of the trailer (excluding accessories and luggage).
  • Gross trailer mass (GTM): the maximum mass the trailer wheels are capable of carrying.
  • Aggregate trailer mass (ATM): the tare weight and the trailer’s maximum payload, while it’s uncoupled.
  • Kerb weight: the weight of an empty vehicle with a full tank of fuel (no passengers, equipment or accessories).
  • Gross vehicle mass (GVM): the weight of a ready vehicle with a full tank of fuel, passengers, equipment and accessories (kerb weight + extras).
  • Gross combination mass (GCM): the total weight allowed for the trailer and vehicle (GVM + ATM).

Here, the GCM is the mass of your fully decked-out vehicle, coupled with your trailer carrying your boat. An error in calculating the towing mass and misaligning it with your vehicle’s capabilities can have dangerous and costly consequences on the road.

Towing capacity

From engine power to structural strength, cars have very different towing capabilities. In order to safely tow your boat, you’ll need to ensure the maximum towing capacity of your vehicle is enough.

Thankfully, most cars will document an official towing capacity, making it easier to work out all the numbers. The stated towing capacity will specify the maximum ATM. This indicates how much mass your vehicle can tow, while operating safely on the road.

When it comes to vehicle towing capacity, there are two main types.

  • Braked Towing Capacity: the ATM of a trailer featuring brakes.
  • Unbraked Towing Capacity: the ATM of a trailer with no brakes.

When a trailer isn’t able to provide braking power, the vehicle towing it will need to provide the braking force. The unbraked towing capacity tends to be much lower than a braked towing capacity, because of this reason.

Trailerboat towing restrictions

Besides weight and capacity, restrictions are also placed on the size of the item being towed, in this case the trailerboat. The Vehicle Standards Bulletin (VSB1) is the national standard that applies to trailers and states that a trailer, including the boat, must not measure more than 4.3m high and 2.5m wide. Its rear over hang must also not be more than 60 per cent of the wheelbase measurement (coupling to wheelset) or 3.7m, whichever is the lesser.

Rules may differ slightly in each state so it is always best to check with your local transport authority for correct limits.

If the size of your boat exceeds these limits, you’ll need ‘Oversize’ signs on the front of the tow vehicle and rear of the trailer and four flags on the trailer. This is for boats no more than 2.9m wide and the signage and flags used must meet Australian Standard specifications.

Restrictions may also be placed on the time of day you’re able to travel with your oversized trailerboat. Again, it is best to check with your state’s transport authority for guidance.

 

Now that you know what kind of boat is best for you, how to go about buying and registering it and how to use it safely, you’re just about ready to hit the water. We hope you’ve found our guide to boating helpful – now get out there and experience the waterways for yourself.