Guidelines for Domestic Commercial Vessel weather safety

Weather safety is an essential consideration for Domestic Commercial Vessels (DCVs). The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) requires all DCVs develop and maintain a safety management system. Weather safety should be included as part of your safely management system, giving consideration to how the weather may affect your operations, procedures, and risks. Incorporating weather safety scenarios into your safety management system will help ensure the safety and comfort of passengers and crew, maximise the efficiency of operations, and ensure the vessel stays within operating limits.

Weather safety procedures

Some weather-related risks will be specific for your operations and geographic area, and these should be included in your safety plans and procedures.

The Bureau’s Marine Weather Knowledge Centre can show you where to find marine weather information, how to use it, and what it means. This includes infographics, guides, and videos, to help communicate weather risks to crew. This material can help you assess the weather conditions that are suitable for your vessel's operations and the types of weather risks that could require specific procedures to be developed.

The Bureau's Five Vital Weather Safety Checks are designed to help all boaters prepare for a safe voyage, and these can be incorporated into your safety plans and procedures.

Wave height graphic and explanation.

Weather-related actions to consider incorporating into your procedures for onboard operations include:

  • conducting a routine set of weather checks prior to a voyage for the coastal waters areas where you will operate
  • providing a summary of expected weather conditions during crew or skipper briefings
  • documenting known navigational or marine weather hazards in your operational area using local knowledge, as well as the dangers of localised effects on wind and wave conditions
  • defining operating limits based on thresholds such as wave heights or wind speeds (noting that wind gusts can be 40 percent stronger than the averages presented in the forecast, and maximum waves may be up to twice the height)
  • outlining decision-making processes if the weather conditions are expected to exceed operating limits (e.g. when to cancel a voyage, when to restrict operations to certain times or areas)
  • specifying sources of marine weather information while at sea and protocols for using these communications (e.g. using Channel 16 for weather forecasts and warnings)
  • outlining steps to take if conditions develop beyond operating limits (e.g. when to return to port or seek a safe haven)
  • creating incident reporting protocols for documenting and reviewing weather-related incidents.

The Marine Weather Knowledge Centre has educational materials, including graphics, guides, and videos, to help communicate marine weather risks to staff. The Bureau also has supporting materials to help you develop procedures relating to tsunamis, tropical cyclones and severe weather.

Weather-related risks

Whenever relevant, weather-related risks such as experiencing severe or adverse weather or wave conditions must be included in your safety management system. Controls to help manage weather-related risks may include:

  • weather checks prior to departure and while at sea
  • access to weather information at sea (e.g. marine radio)
  • standard operating procedures
  • safety briefings
  • charter agreements and defined operation limits
  • crew competency assessments (e.g. including vessel handing and training in different weather conditions)
  • contingency and emergency plans for rapid changes in weather
  • Personal Floatation Devices, and level floatation devices
  • communication and distress communication channels (e.g. marine radio and beacons)

You should also consider the physical parameters of your vessel when developing your weather risk assessment. Information about these limits may be stated on the vessel's Certification of Operation or Certificate of Survey.

Weather checks prior to a voyage will also be a control to help you manage other risks, such as preventing:

  • man overboard
  • capsizing
  • personal injury
  • grounding
  • vessel flooding.

Further guidance about maintaining an effective risk management system is available on AMSA's website.

Example procedures for weather risks

Refer to AMSA's safety management system guidelines and flipcharts for ideas on developing and writing emergency procedures.

Other weather-related risks to consider might include heatwaves, tropical cyclones, cold water, or thunderstorms.

The Bureau’s six things you need to know about wind warnings is a useful guide on the steps to take if a wind warning is issued for your area of operation. Your procedures might include documenting the following.

  • When will the wind warning conditions start?
  • What wind speeds are expected? You should be familiar with what wind speeds are associated with the different levels of wind warnings and your procedures should set the criteria for what conditions are safe for your vessel and crew.
  • What area is the wind warning for? You should be familiar with the names of the Coastal Waters areas and their reference points as these are mentioned in wind warnings.
  • Where will the wind direction be from?
  • Is there any bad weather forecast? A cold front is generally associated with heavy showers, thunderstorms, and squally winds. The Bureau’s Coastal Waters forecast will indicate what type of weather is expected, and skippers should be prepared to activate their emergency procedures as required.
  • When will the wind conditions ease? Knowing when the wind warning is forecast to ease will help inform your risk management procedures.

The following procedures can assist when crossing an ocean or coastal bar:

  • Determine if and when it is safe to cross the ocean bar after checking the tide, wind, and wave conditions using the Bureau’s Coastal Waters forecasts and tidal predictions on
  • The bar crossing should occur within an hour either side of high tide. This is when the water level is at its highest (for under keel clearance) and the tidal currents are weaker.
  • Crossing at mid-tide (especially the outgoing tide) when tidal currents are stronger, should be avoided. When the tidal current is travelling in the opposite direction to the wave direction, waves can become steeper and closer together, creating hazardous and unpredictable conditions.
  • Check the forecast for sea and swell heights above 1.5 metres, which can make crossing ocean bars more dangerous.
    • In NSW and QLD, check for forecasts and warnings mentioning Hazardous Surf, which specifically refer to hazardous conditions for crossing bars (e.g. ‘Caution: Large and powerful surf conditions are expected to be hazardous for coastal activities such as crossing bars by boat and rock fishing.’)
  • Skipper and crew should maintain a visual watch of wave conditions from the deck during an ocean bar crossing.
  • The skipper should communicate with the local marine radio operator and advise intentions to cross the ocean bar.
  • Ensure that crew and passengers are safely seated, and provisions are made to ensure their safety if there are severe vessel movements, such as instructing to wear life jackets.

Related resources for your region:

If you are operating a vessel during the daytime hours, you should consider having sun safety procedures in place for crew and/or passengers. These may include the following:

  • Being aware of Cancer Council Australia’s workplace guides to skin cancer prevention (e.g. to avoid the risks of heatstroke)
  • Using the Cancer Council’s guidelines to encourage passengers and crew to take action and:
    • reduce the amount of time they spend in the sun
    • use sun protection measures while in the sun, including wearing appropriate clothing for the forecast conditions.
  • Understanding how to check the UV forecast and sun protection times using the Bureau’s forecast products.
  • Understanding how reflection off the water, vessel, or sand can increase the amount of UV radiation you're exposed to.
  • Keeping a record of sun protection times and UV levels in the ship’s log.

Severe weather poses threats to crew and passenger safety, and the vessel itself. This might be caused by lightning, hail, sudden increases in wind gusts (commonly referred to as squalls), wave heights, reduced visibility from fog, or severe ship movements. The impacts of severe weather on boating are described further on the Marine Weather Knowledge Centre.

Procedures prior to a voyage might include the following.

  • Checking Coastal Waters forecasts or MetEye for mention of thunderstorms, and noting any information about the expected time of the day or specific areas that will be affected.
  • Letting your emergency contact know of your voyage plans and details, including your approximate time of arrival, and notifying them when you complete your voyage.
  • If severe weather conditions are expected, use criteria and decision-making processes to decide if you should:
    • cancel the voyage
    • restrict operation of the vessel to an area deemed safe
    • restrict operation of the vessel to a period of the day deemed safe.

Emergency procedures during a voyage might include:

  • Instructing those aboard to wear life jackets.
  • Proceeding to the nearest specified safe anchorage or alternate safe haven.
  • Using VHF radio to inform the base station of your situation, current location, and plans, and maintaining communications.
  • Listening to Channel 16 for any updates on the weather forecast or warning updates being broadcast.
  • Establishing when to activate heightened risk vessel operating procedures, and when it is safe to resume routine operations.
  • Asking non-essential crew and passengers to proceed to the safety of below deck areas.
  • Securing all weather-tight hatches.
  • Lowering sails if wind speed or gusts are excessive, and proceeding under propulsion power of main engine.
  • Using your communication channels to call for emergency assistance, and distress signals to alert nearby vessels.



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