Boating emergencies and incidents

Find out what to do in emergencies and incidents, such as marine transport spills, emergency situations, navigation hazards and aid faults.

  Emergency situations

All emergency situations requiring immediate assistance call 000 or contact the WA Water Police - (08) 9442 8600.

Opens in a new window Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES): Volunteer Marine Rescue Services

Assess the situation

  • Assess the situation and make your passengers as safe as possible. This should include putting on lifejackets and may involve moving people to a different part of the vessel, or even preparing them to abandon the boat.
  • Check to make sure there is no danger of the emergency getting worse, for instance, a leaking fuel line causing a fire.

Sending a distress signal and how to use a radio during an emergency

Find out more about sending distress signals and safety calls.

Leadership and assisting others

The skipper must:

  • Think decisively and logically.
  • Keep your radio tuned to either the distress frequency or the Sea Rescue working frequency. This is because you must stay available to assist others.
  • It is a legal obligation to offer help if you hear a radio distress call or see distress signals or a burning vessel.

The skipper should also respond to urgency radio calls or other requests for assistance that fall outside the distress category. You are not obliged to offer a tow to other vessels. You can offer to stand by until Sea Rescue turns up.


For information on reporting a marine incident, hazard, non-compliance issue or marine pollution visit the Contact Marine and Coastal page.

Opens in a new window Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES): Volunteer Marine Rescue Services

  Marine transport emergencies and oil spills

For information during an environmental emergency incident contact Department of Transport emergency line 1300 966 459.

The Department of Transport manages the State Hazard Plan for Maritime Environmental Emergencies.

For more information on these plans, please see State Hazard Plan

The Department also acts as the Hazard Management Agency (HMA) for marine oil pollution in State Waters.

For more information, please go to the Oil spills page.


  Report non-compliance, marine incidents and moored vessels

Use the forms below to report a marine incident, non-compliance such as speeding, or observations about vessels on recreational (yellow), courtesy (red) and rental (green) moorings.

  Cyclone community information sheets: 2022/23

For information during a cyclone contact Department of Transport emergency line 1300 966 459.

The Department of Transport is responsible for the provision of cyclone community information sheet for its maritime facilities located in cyclone prone areas.

Please download our cyclone community information sheet below.


Well-maintained motors are unlikely to break down, and most breakdowns consist of the motor refusing to start rather than simply stopping.

Outboard not starting or stopping

Not everything in this list applies to every outboard motor, but it is the basis of a simple troubleshooting routine of an outboard not starting or if the motor stops.

  • Does tank have fuel?
  • Is air vent clear?
  • Is fuel line unkinked and connected?
  • Is the fuel bulb hard? If not, squeeze continually.
  • Does choke close fully?
  • Check the carburettor air intake.
  • Is the motor cranking fast enough? Check battery connections.
  • Wait five minutes and try again.
  • Battery flat? Start with rope around flywheel.
  • Broken starter cord? Start with rope around flywheel.
  • Change spark plugs.
  • Change fuses.
  • Ensure kill switch is attached.

If you are unable to restart the motor, you should:

  • Drop anchor to hold your position (if possible).
  • Call Sea Rescue for assistance.
  • If you are drifting into danger and/or come to require emergency assistance, you should make a Pan Pan or Mayday call over the radio.
Opens in a new window Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES): Volunteer Marine Rescue Services


Common reasons for a capsize situation:

  • Gross overloading, or poor distribution of load.
  • Broaching when running with a following sea. This is made more likely by the boat not having the bow trimmed up.
  • Free surface effect due to water in the boat or shifting load.
  • Poor driving technique.
  • Caught by breakers on the seaward side of a reef (usually on days of bigger than normal swell).
  • Caught by wind and waves with the occupants on one side pulling pots.

Safety advice

  1. Make sure your passengers are all there.
  2. Make sure all passengers stay with the boat/vessel.
  3. If possible, turn the boat upright and bail the water out.
  4. Consider the best swimmer to dive and remove lifejackets and safety gear.
  5. Once you have your safety hear, consider the appropriate means to get help.
  6. Never swim away from a capsized boat.
  7. It is difficult to bail out a dinghy, it may well be impossible with a larger boat. If you cannot right the boat and get inside it, you should try to get as much of yourselves as possible onto the hull.

Note: Most trailable sized boats have enough flotation to keep afloat if upturned.

  Carbon monoxide

Skippers need to be aware of the dangers posed by Carbon Monoxide (CO), when boating.

Particularly at risk are those with boat engines, generators, stoves and heaters because of the enclosed and confined spaces on some vessels.

CO is a colourless, tasteless and odourless gas produced when carbon based fuel, such as diesel, petrol, or propane, burns.

When a person is exposed to CO it limits the ability of the bloodstream to carry oxygen causing headaches, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, irritated eyes and if not detected can be a silent killer. Unfortunately, some people ignore the signs of CO poisoning thinking they are caused by sea sickness, fatigue, sun exposure or excessive alcohol intake and this can be a tragic mistake.

To keep carbon monoxide levels at a minimum and prevent poisoning, regular maintenance and proper operation of a vessel is essential.

Carbon Monoxide alarms
Carbon Monoxide alarms

Prevent the build-up of CO on your boat

Any appliance that burns carbon-based fuels should be properly installed and serviced by a qualified technician.

Exhaust fumes, particularly from petrol engines such as the boat's motor or from a portable generator contain CO and should be directed away from a vessel’s cabin or accommodation spaces.

Act now to ensure your vessel is safe:

  • Exhausts and internal hoses should be continually maintained and checked.
  • Install carbon monoxide alarms in the engine room for either a petrol or diesel motor and the main cabin.
  • Check inboard engines exhaust outside the vessel.
  • Ensure petrol driven generators are used in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations, are not installed in a confined space and do not have the exhaust system modified in any way.
  • Never use an onboard stove or oven for heating.
  • Ensure canvas enclosures are well ventilated.
  • Maintain fresh air circulation throughout the boat at all times, especially where engines, cookers and heaters are in use.
  • Never sit or teak surf at the swim platform - while the engines are running. Teak surfing – which is holding onto the swim platform while underway – it is NEVER a safe activity.
  • When berthed, or rafted with another boat, be aware of exhaust emissions from the other boat.
  • Although CO can be present without the smell of exhaust fumes, if you smell exhaust fumes, take immediate action to clear them.
  • Consider installing a fan to circulate air in confined space.

Dangers of carbon monoxide when boating

Symptoms of CO poisoning

Symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to those experienced with over-consumption of alcohol, fatigue, sun exposure or sea sickness and include:

  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • A dull headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness

If CO is taken into the body in high concentrations, you can become unconscious and incapacitated very quickly.

CO poisoning is particularly dangerous for those who are intoxicated or sleeping.

Carbon monoxide
Carbon monoxide

Treatment of CO poisoning

Victims should be moved to fresh air away from the source of carbon monoxide and medical attention immediately sought.

Regular checks to stay safe

Once a month:

  • Make sure all exhaust clamps are in place and secure
  • Look for exhaust leaking from exhaust system components. Signs include rust and/or black streaking, water leaks, or corroded or cracked fittings
  • Inspect rubber exhaust hoses for burned, cracked, or deterioration. All rubber hoses should be pliable and free of kinks

Once a year:

  • Consider having a qualified marine technician inspect, check and where necessary replace components.
  • Consider the DoT BEST Check where a skilled person can check your vessel to ensure it is all in good working order.

  Collision regulations

The Prevention of Collision at Sea Regulations 1983 comprises the rules set out in the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea 1972.

The Prevention of Collision at Sea Regulations covers 5 Parts:

  • Part A: General.
  • Part B: Steering and sailing rules.
  • Part C: Lights and shapes.
  • Part D: Sound and light signals.
  • Part E: Exemptions.

Vessel certificated under the Western Australian Marine Act 1982 are required to conform with these rules.

Opens in a new window International Maritime Organization: Preventing collisions at sea
Opens in a new window Department of Justice: Prevention of Collisions at Sea Regulations 1983 (WA)
Opens in a new window Department of Justice: Western Australian Marine Act 1982 (WA)


Grounding is very common, with results ranging from minor scratching to sinking, injuries and environmental damage. Speed and type of bottom hit are often all that cause the difference. If you do run aground, look after your passengers.


Grounding is a thoroughly preventable type of emergency. You can avoid it by:

  • Knowing where you should be and where you actually are, and keeping a good lookout are the keys.
  • Plan your trips using a chart, and take the chart along. Ensure you will have enough water depth throughout.
  • Make sure you can identify all the navigation marks, and bear in mind that not all of them have lights at night.
  • Whenever in doubt about your position or the identity of a navigation aid, slow down.

Assess the damage and take action

  • If you are outboard or sterndrive powered, raise the leg and check for propeller damage.
  • If the boat appears serviceable, check for depth around the boat by probing with a boat hook or even getting over the side.
  • Pushing off may be the best option for getting the boat clear, although you may need to wait for the tide to rise.
  • If the boat is unseaworthy or hard aground, call for assistance over the radio.
  • Coming to a sudden stop can cause injuries. You may need to call for medical assistance.


Some causes of fires:

  • Overheated oil on galley stove.
  • Overloaded or incorrectly wired electrical system.
  • Poor engine room housekeeping: rags in contact with turbocharger or exhaust system.
  • Leaking fuel or gas lines.
  • Poor refuelling technique.

Fires can be prevented by:

  • Correct installation.
  • Good housekeeping.
  • Regular maintenance.
  • Good fire prevention technique.


There are boats on the water powered by petrol engines with substandard conversions to marine use.

When buying a used boat with an inboard or stern-drive motor, have the motor and installation checked by a marine mechanic.

Fuel vapour is heavier than air, and will not leave a compartment without assistance. Consider having power ventilation installed.

Liquid petroleum gas (LPG)

LPG systems must be correctly installed by a qualified person. LPG vapour is heavier than air, so the cylinder must be stowed above deck in a place where vapour spills will run over the side.

When you have finished cooking with an LPG stove, turn off the gas at the cylinder and let the gas jets keep burning until they go out. Then turn them off.


  • Keep your fire extinguishers where they are most accessible not near the source of a potential fire; and check and maintain them.
  • Keep the bilge and engine room clean.
  • Have the installation and maintenance of all electrical, gas, diesel and petrol equipment carried out by qualified tradesmen.
  • Frequently make your own checks for leaks in fuel and gas systems.


Develop a consistent routine for starting your engine. For in-boards and stern-drives this should always include:

  • Entering the engine room or opening the motor box.
  • Checking for leaks.
  • Sniffing as low in the bilge as you can reach. The human nose is good at detecting minute concentrations of flammable vapour.


When refuelling:

  • Turn off everything that uses electricity, gas or liquid fuel.
  • Send passengers ashore.
  • Take portable fuel tanks out of the boat.
  • Have a fire extinguisher near the refuelling point.
  • Know how much fuel you need to take and so reduce the chance of overfilling (leave space to allow for expansion of the fuel).
  • If your fuel tank is metal, there must be electrical continuity between the mouth of the fuel filler pipe and the tank. The hose nozzle must stay in contact with the filler mouth while the fuel is flowing.
  • Check the bilge for spillage and for the smell of fuel. Do not start the engine until all fuel smell has gone.

Fighting a fire

The most important consideration is human life, the boat is secondary.

  • Raise the alarm and make a head count.
  • Get someone to make a Pan Pan radio call.
  • Get someone to take charge of the safety gear and move the passengers as far as possible from the fire.
  • If the fire is within an enclosed space, close all openings to reduce air supply to the fire.
  • Close off fuel lines and gas lines.
  • Try to put out the fire with extinguisher, fire blanket, water buckets or whatever is appropriate.
  • The best way to deal with burning items may be simply to throw them over the side.
  • When the fire is apparently out, still keep an eye on it and on adjoining spaces; fires can restart.
  • Chemical extinguishers do not cool fires; consider using water to cool after the flames are extinguished.


Most trailer boats have flotation to cope with flooding, and seldom sink. Larger boats without flotation usually take some time to sink.

Be prepared for possible sinking by:

  • Having lifejackets quickly accessible.
  • Safety items and emergency provisions in a watertight drum.
  • Storing extra water in a floating container.

Before abandoning the boat:

  • Attempt to send a distress call by radio.
  • Put on more clothing if time - do not remove any.

Once in the water:

  • Activate the EPIRB.
  • Adopt the huddle position to keep everybody together and to conserve body heat.


Australian Tsunami Warning Service

Upon advice from Bureau of Meteorology, the Department of Fire and Emergency Services activates the State arrangements so the emergency services will assist the Western Australian community in reducing the impact of a possible tsunami.

Opens in a new window Bureau of Meteorology (BOM)
Opens in a new window Bureau of Meteorology (BOM): Australian tsunami warning service
Opens in a new window Department of Fire and Emergency Services (DFES)
Opens in a new window Geoscience Australia

Image of grounded boat

Page last updated: Tue Nov 1 2022 2:09:50 PM