Queenslanders urged to heed boating safety messages

New report reveals alarming spike in the number of fatalities.

The number of Queensland boating fatalities hit a 20-year high in 2019, sparking calls for boaties to heed safety messages when on the water.

The 2019 Marine Incident Report revealed eighteen people died after incidents in Queensland waters last year, the highest number in two decades.

The report revealed three people died of traumatic injuries, one of an exacerbated pre-existing condition, and 14 drowned or are presumed to have drowned. 

Those who died ranged in age from nine to 71 years and included 16 males and two females.

Of the 14 who drowned or were lost at sea, only one was known to have been wearing a lifejacket.

The reported incidents involved 412 Queensland registered recreational vessels and 31 Queensland registered commercial vessels resulting in 109 injuries, with 37 people admitted to hospital.

The most commonly reported incidents were collisions between ships, collisions with objects, groundings and capsizes.

Grim milestone

Transport and Main Roads (TMR) Minister Mark Bailey said the findings of the report marked a grim milestone for the state.

“The number of reported marine incidents and hospitalisations last year was slightly down on the previous year, but sadly, there were four serious incidents that claimed multiple lives,” Mr Bailey said.

“One particularly tragic event saw a group of five family members and friends lost at sea in the Torres Strait.

“Human factors were the significant contributor to most of these incidents, which frequently happened on smooth water, with good visibility in clear weather.”

Mr Bailey said the report showed boat users needed to pay more attention to safety messages and commit to routine use of lifejackets.

“Of the 113 people who have drowned during marine incidents in Queensland over the past 20 years, only five were known to have been wearing a lifejacket,” he said.

“The water safety message hasn’t changed over that time.

“Boat operators need to keep a proper lookout at all times and always travel at a safe speed.

“Most importantly, they must have enough lifejackets on board for everyone and make sure everyone knows how to use them.”

Lifejackets recommended

Maritime Safety Queensland (MSQ) recommends wearing lifejackets at all times, however it is only compulsory when crossing a designated coastal bar in an open boat  less than 4.8m long, or if you are under 12 years old in a moving open boat that is less than 4.8m.

The report was released as the latest TMR figures show a spike in the number of registered vessels in Queensland.

In July, there were 265,618 registered vessels in Queensland, an increase of nearly 4000 over the past 12 months

A TMR spokesperson said BoatSafe training providers were reporting higher than usual student enrolments which was expected to translate into an increase in licences as people completed courses.

He said boating retailers and chandleries had also been reporting more business in recent months.

MSQ General Manager Angus Mitchell said MSQ had already stepped up its efforts to check safety equipment on boats and monitor the unlicensed operation of vessels.

“Late last year, MSQ established the Marine Enforcement Team to carry out on-water, education and compliance operations,” Mr Mitchell said.

“Along with Queensland Police, Boating and Fisheries Patrol, and Parks and Wildlife, they’ve conducted joint campaigns … (which) have intercepted hundreds of boat users in targeted operations, with the aim of raising awareness of boating rules which may differ from state to state, and generally reminding people of their responsibilities on the water.”


Before you hit the water

  • Check your boat is in good condition.
  • Check that you have all the required safety equipment on board and that it is easily accessible.
  • Let someone know where you are going, how many people are on board and when you intend to return.
  • Make sure you have the correct marine licence.
  • Know how to use your marine radio and which channels to use.
  • Check the weather before you go out. 
  • Make sure you have enough water and fuel for the whole trip.
  • Know the rules of the sea-road and follow them.
  • Wear your lifejacket.