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Arrangements for emergency services vessels (Exemption 24, including ‘Scheme R’)

Implements nationally-agreed arrangements for volunteer fire service vessels and emergency services authority vessels.

Exemption 24 (Emergency services vessels) implements nationally-agreed arrangements for Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) vessels (‘Scheme R’), fire service vessels and emergency services authority vessels.

Arrangements for VMR vessels

‘Scheme R’ applies to vessels captured in the definitions of VMR organisationand VMR vessel in Exemption 24. Exemption 24 contains separate arrangements for fire service and emergency services authority vessels, which are outlined below. This section outlines the requirements for VMR vessels, or ‘Scheme R’.

What vessels are in Scheme R?

The Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Regulation (national law regulation) provides that a vessel which is either:

  • used by a volunteer search, rescue or search and rescue organisation for the purposes of conducting searches or searches and rescues
  • a volunteer search, rescue or search and rescue vessel that undertakes searches or searches and rescues

is a domestic commercial vessel subject to schedule 1 of the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012 (national law).

The only exception to this is surf lifesaving vessels (and vessels used by surf lifesaving organisations) operating only in sheltered waters or within 2 nautical miles of the low water mark. These vessels are not domestic commercial vessels and are not subject to the national law.

All ‘volunteer search and rescue vessels’ subject to the national law are eligible for Scheme R, provided:

  • The VMR organisation which operates the vessel is established for the primary purpose of providing marine search, rescue and public safety services, and is given responsibilities by a State, Territory or Commonwealth government in an emergency or disaster.
  • The vessel is used for activities for which no compensation is charged, or for which nominal compensation only is charged.

A VMR organisation is an organisation:

  • Established for the primary purpose of providing marine search, rescue and public safety services.
  • That may be given responsibilities by a State, Territory or Commonwealth government in an emergency or disaster (for example, these may be set out in State, Territory or Commonwealth emergency management or search and rescue plan or subplan).

A VMR vessel is a vessel that:

  • is owned by a VMR organisation
  • is used to conduct searches and rescues
  • may be used only in connection with a commercial activity for which the supply is GST-free under section 38-250 of the A New Tax System Act or search and rescue activities for which no compensation is payable.

Can a VMR vessel be used for ‘fee for service’ activities?

A VMR vessel can be used for other activities which may not be search and rescue activities and still be eligible for Scheme R, provided that no fee or compensation is paid, or only nominal compensation is paid, to the VMR organisation. These activities include, for example, using the vessel to:

  • provide training to a person
  • assist with fundraising activities
  • enable maintenance work to be performed on the vessel.

If you are proposing to use a VMR vessel to conduct activities that may not be search and rescue activities, and you would like to know whether your vessel will be eligible for Scheme R while performing these activities, please contact AMSA. A vessel may be eligible for Scheme R when used for search and rescue (and related, non-commercial) activities, but not be eligible for Scheme R when being used for commercial activities.

Does a VMR vessel need a unique vessel identifier?

Unless exempt, all VMR vessels are required to have a unique vessel identifier. The unique vessel identifier must be clearly and prominently displayed on the vessel at all times. You will need to apply to AMSA for a unique identifier if the VMR vessel does not already have one, using the Application for notice of intent to build and/or unique vessel identifier form 537.

Exemption 01 exempts some vessels from the requirement to have a unique vessel identifier or from displaying the identifier on the vessel (or both), subject to certain conditions being met. For example, tenders may display the parent vessel’s unique identifier, or the name of the vessel owner, provided the identifier includes the word ‘Tender’ or is followed by a ‘— T’. 

Some kinds of smaller human powered craft are exempt from the requirement to display a unique identifier but still need to have a unique vessel identifier for vessel.

Read more information on requirements for unique vessel identifiers including vessels exempt from these requirements.

Does a VMR vessel need a certificate of survey?

Some VMR vessels eligible for Scheme R require a certificate of survey, while some VMR vessels are exempt.

New VMR vessels exempt from the requirement to hold a certificate of survey

VMR organisations can elect for their VMR vessels to be non-survey vessels if they are:

  • less than 12 metres in length
  • operate only in sheltered (D and E) waters
  • do not carry passengers.

‘Passengers’ do not include volunteer personnel on board the vessel or rescued persons.

These vessels must comply with the National Standard for Commercial Vessels (NSCV) Part G – non-survey vessels. The VMR organisation must make declarations as to the vessel’s compliance with NSCV Part G when the vessel enters into service and annually after that. Annual declarations must be kept in the safety management system (SMS) for the vessel.

These ‘non-survey’ arrangements for Scheme R vessels are contained in Exemption 02 (Division 3). You need to apply to AMSA for approval to operate under Exemption 02.

New VMR vessels required to have a certificate of survey

All other new VMR vessels must hold a certificate of survey and meet the vessel and equipment standards identified in Marine Order 503 (Certificates of survey – national law). However, instead of the periodic survey requirements identified in Marine Order 503, VMR organisations can elect for the vessel to:

  • Undergo an initial survey and a five yearly renewal survey in accordance with Part 2 of the Marine surveyor manual.
  • Complete an annual declaration that the vessel complies with the applicable standard (the declaration must be kept in the safety management system for the vessel).
  • Once the vessel is 15 years or older (or another age determined by AMSA), undergo a periodic survey at year two of the survey cycle (in addition to the five yearly renewal survey).

These survey arrangements are contained in section 5 of Exemption 24. When a VMR organisation applies for a certificate of survey for a VMR vessel, they should note that it is a VMR vessel in the application.

You can apply for a certificate of survey using the Application for a certificate of survey and/or load line certificate for a domestic commercial vessel form 521.

Grandfathering arrangements for existing VMR vessels

The grandfathering arrangements for survey requirements, and design and construction standards, for VMR vessels that are already in operation will continue.

For non-survey vessels, these are contained in Exemption 02. A VMR vessel that was not required to hold a certificate of survey prior to 1 July 2013 can continue to meet the non-survey arrangements that applied to the vessel on 30 June 2013 (division 5 of Exemption 02). You do not need to apply to AMSA for approval to operate under this exemption.

For vessels required to be in survey, these arrangements are contained in Marine Order 503. A VMR vessel which is already in operation, and which holds a certificate of survey, can elect to either be surveyed in accordance with the survey frequency in Schedule 3 of Marine Order 503 or to opt into the survey arrangements contained in section 5 of Exemption 24 (this involves 5 yearly renewal surveys for vessels up to 15 years old).

Contemporary safety equipment standards are being phased-in for all existing vessels, including VMR vessels. These depend on the vessel type, but often apply as equipment is replaced, and are independent of periodic survey requirements. Safety equipment lists and transitional requirements can be found on AMSA’s website.

Does a VMR organisation need a certificate of operation for a VMR vessel?

Unless exempt, all VMR vessels are required to have a certificate of operation. A certificate of operation sets out the conditions under which a domestic commercial vessel—or fleet of vessels—must operate, including:

  • the vessels used in the operation
  • how and where the vessels can operate
  • other conditions AMSA considers necessary due to the nature of either a vessel or an operation.

It is a condition of the certificate of operation that the vessel must have a safety management system that complies with the requirements in Marine Order 504.

You can apply for a certificate of operation using Application for a certificate of operation form 504.

Exemption 03 exempts certain kinds of vessels and vessel operations from the requirement to have a certificate of operation. Generally, vessels that are exempt are:

  • less than 7.5 metres in length
  • operate only in sheltered (D and E) waters
  • do not carry passengers
  • are not high risk (as described in division 2.1 of Exemption 03).

VMR organisations do not need to apply to for Exemption 03. However, it is important that the conditions listed in Exemption 03 are complied with. This includes the vessel having and complying with a safety management system that complies with Marine Order 504.

Do crew on a VMR vessel require a certificate of competency?

Crew on VMR vessels are not required to hold a national law certificate of competency, unless required to do so by the relevant VMR organisation.

All Scheme R crew must:

  • be at least 16 years old
  • meet medical and eyesight requirements determined by the VMR organisation
  • meet training requirements imposed by the VMR organisation.

VMR crew who worked on a VMR vessel before 1 July 2018

Crew on VMR vessels that were certified by a VMR organisation as competent to operate Scheme R vessels prior to 1 July 2018 can continue to operate Scheme R vessels in accordance with their existing certification, indefinitely. Schedules 1 and 2 of Exemption 24 do not apply to VMR crew and masters who have been certified by the VMR organisation prior to 1 July 2018.

This provision recognises any certification or competency validation arrangements put in place by a VMR organisation.

Exemption 24 does not provide any conditions regarding what training and competency these existing crew must have—the VMR organisation is expected to have had (and to maintain) a thorough and appropriate safety management system which determines the appropriate training and competency requirements for volunteer crew who were trained or certified by the organisation prior to 1 July 2018.

This grandfathering arrangement will be reviewed by AMSA periodically—national law regulations, including marine orders and exemptions, are generally reviewed every five years, or earlier if an incident occurs which triggers a review.

New crew after 1 July 2018 or existing crew obtaining higher qualifications

From 1 July 2018, crew of VMR vessels must either:

  • have been certified as competent to operate the vessel by the VMR organisation prior to 1 July 2018
  • operate only personal watercraft (PWC) or operate only on inland waters
  • meet the requirements of Schedules 1 and 2 of Exemption 24.

Crew of personal watercraft (PWC) and of vessels operating on inland waters (non-tidal waters) must:

  • hold any recreational boating operator licence required for equivalent recreational vessels in the jurisdiction.

All other new crew, and crew which obtain higher qualifications, must meet the competency requirements of Schedules 1 and 2 of Exemption 24. Under Schedules 1 and 2, three levels of VMR crew have been identified:

  • VMR crew or deckhand.
  • Masters to 3 nautical miles.
  • masters to 30 nautical miles, or 50 nautical miles (and within the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Straight Zone) in Queensland. The master can go beyond this limit where permitted by the vessel’s certification, weather conditions and a risk assessment*.

*Note that the vessel needs certificate of operation and certificate of survey to allow the vessel to operate beyond these operating distances.

Schedule 1 of Exemption 24 identifies the duties which may be carried out by each new VMR crew level. In summary:

  • VMR crew / deckhands can assist VMR masters and engineers.
  • VMR masters to 3 nautical miles can command a vessel less than 24 metres to 3 nautical miles from point of departure or port, harbour or sheltered waters.
  • Masters to 30 nautical miles can command a vessel to 30 nautical miles (or 50 nautical miles and within the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Straight Zone in Queensland), and beyond in accordance with a risk assessment completed by the VMR organisation*.

*Note that the vessel needs certificate of operation and certificate of survey to allow the vessel to operate beyond these operating distances.

Schedule 2 contains the training and competency requirements for each level. The training requirements include first aid training, MAR Maritime Training Package units of competency and relevant radio communications training. VMR organisations which are not Registered Training Organisations can deliver the training, provided the conditions set out in section 6(5) and (6) of Exemption 24 are met. VMR crew do not need to obtain a certificate of competency in order to meet the Schedule 2 requirements.

These levels of VMR crew, and the associated training requirements, apply only to new VMR crew who are certified by the VMR organisation after 30 June 2018. This includes new volunteers (those who enter the system after 30 June 2018) and existing VMR crew who move into a higher qualification level after 30 June 2018. Recognised Prior Learning processes can be used to allow existing VMR crew to obtain a higher qualification level. For example, where a crew member wishes to become a master, they must complete the training and assessments required by Schedule 1. Recognised Prior Learning processes may be used to recognise any training already completed by the crew member.

In addition, the VMR crew competency requirements apply only to those crew members who form part of the ‘adequate crew’ of the vessel determined by the VMR organisation. Other volunteers may be on board the vessel.

These crewing arrangements are contained in section 6 (and Schedules 1 and 2) of Exemption 24. The ‘grandfathering’ provision, which recognises all qualifications issued by VMR organisations up until 30 June 2018, is section 6(2)(d). See Exemption 24 for more information.

You do not need to obtain approval from AMSA to access the Scheme R crewing arrangements in Exemption 24. AMSA will record that the vessel is operating as a search and rescue vessel on the vessel’s certificate of operation.

Arrangements for other emergency service and fire service vessels

Exemption 24 contains separate arrangements for fire service and emergency service authority vessels.

Note that VMR vessels must comply with the arrangements for VMR vessels (Scheme R) outlined above and are not eligible for the emergency service authority arrangements.

Emergency service authority is an organisation:

  • established to provide emergency response, emergency management services or disaster relief
  • given responsibilities by a State, Territory or Commonwealth government in an emergency or disaster.

An emergency service authority’s responsibilities may be set out in a State, Territory or Commonwealth emergency management or search and rescue plan or subplan.

Fire service organisation is an organisation established by State, Territory or Commonwealth legislation to provide the following services:

  • prevention, mitigation and suppression of fires
  • protection of people from dangers to their safety and health from fire
  • protection of property from destruction or damage by fire.

Fire service vessel means a vessel used by a fire service organisation for any of the following:

  • to transport volunteers and employees of the organisation and equipment to help with fire-fighting activities
  • for on-water fire fighting activities
  • to help government agencies and non-government organisations with transport, search and fire fighting activities in relation to fires or emergency events
  • to train volunteers and employees of the organisation
  • for fire awareness programs.

Arrangements for emergency services authority vessels

The arrangements for emergency service authority vessels are intended to apply to other types of emergency service organisations, such as Police, Water Police, aviation rescue and so on. The vessels are generally crewed by employees of the organisation, not by volunteers.

Key differences between the arrangements for emergency service authority vessels as compared to VMR vessels are:

  • Survey arrangements - emergency service authority vessels are not eligible for the survey arrangements in section 5 of Exemption 24. However, these vessels may be exempt under Exemption 02 from the requirement to have a certificate of survey if the eligibility criteria and conditions are met. This is explained further below.
  • Crew competency requirements – AMSA must first approve in writing the specified operation of the emergency service authority before an individual can be exempt from the requirement to have a certificate of competency. The emergency service authority must also certify that the person is competent to operate the vessel.

Do emergency service authority vessels need a unique vessel identifier?

Similar to VMR vessels, emergency service authority vessels are required to have a unique vessel identifier unless exempt. The unique vessel identifier must be clearly and prominently displayed on the vessel at all times. You will need to apply to AMSA for a unique identifier if the emergency service vessel does not already have one, using the Application for notice of intent to build and/or unique vessel identifier form 537.

Do emergency service authority vessels need a certificate of survey?

Some emergency service authority vessels are required to hold a certificate of survey, while others are exempt.

Emergency service authority vessels exempt from the requirement to hold a certificate of survey

Similar to the non-survey arrangements for VMR vessels, emergency service authorities can elect for their vessels to be non-survey vessels if they:

  • are less than 12 metres in length
  • operate only in sheltered (D and E) waters
  • do not carry passengers
  • do not have a high risk modifier.

These vessels must comply with the NSCV Part G – non-survey vessels. You need to apply to AMSA for approval to operate under Exemption 02.

An emergency service authority vessel that was not required to hold a certificate of survey prior to 1 July 2013 can continue to meet the non-survey arrangements that applied to the vessel on 30 June 2013. You do not need to apply to AMSA for approval.

Emergency services authority vessels required to have a certificate of survey

All other emergency service authority vessels must hold a certificate of survey and meet the vessel and equipment standards identified in Marine Order 503 (Certificates of survey – national law).

You can apply for a certificate of survey using the Application for a certificate of survey and/or load line certificate for a domestic commercial vessel form 521.

Similar to VMR vessels, the grandfathering arrangements for design and construction standards for emergency service authority vessels that are already in operation will continue. However, contemporary safety equipment standards are being phased-in for all existing vessels, including emergency service authority vessels. These depend on the vessel type, but often apply as equipment is replaced, and are independent of periodic survey requirements. Safety equipment lists and transitional requirements can be found on AMSA’s website.

Do emergency service authorities need a certificate of operation for their vessels?

Like VMR vessels, unless exempt all emergency service authority vessels are required to have a certificate of operation.

You can apply for a certificate of operation using Application for a certificate of operation form 504.

Emergency service authority vessels will also be exempt from the requirement to have certificate of operation where the eligibility criteria and conditions of exemption in Exemption 03 are met. Similar to VMR vessels, emergency service authorities do not need to approval to operate under this exemption.

Do crew on emergency service authority vessel need a certificate of competency?

Exemption 24 exempts a person on an emergency service authority vessel from the requirement to hold a certificate of competency that would be otherwise be required if:

  • an emergency service authority certifies that the person is competent to operate the vessel
  • the National Regulator approves in writing the specified operation.

Arrangements for fire service vessels

The fire service vessel arrangements reflect the unique operating conditions of fire service vessels. These vessels are generally operating in sheltered waters and are under the command of an organisation which has been formally established by legislation.

Do fire service vessels need a unique vessel identifier?

Similar to VMR vessels, fire service vessels are required to have a unique vessel identifier unless exempt. The unique vessel identifier must be clearly and prominently displayed on the vessel at all times. 

You will need to apply to AMSA for a unique identifier if the fire service vessel does not already have one, using Application for notice of intent to build and/or unique vessel identifier form 537.

Read more information on requirements for unique vessel identifiers including vessels exempt from these requirements.

Do fire service vessels need a certificate of survey?

Some fire service vessels are required to hold a certificate of survey, while others are exempt.

Fire services vessels exempt from the requirement to hold a certificate of survey

Similar to the non-survey arrangements for VMR vessels, fire service organisations can elect for their vessels to be non-survey vessels if they are:

  • less than 12 metres in length
  • operate only in sheltered (D and E) waters
  • do not carry passengers.

These vessels must comply with the NSCV Part G – non-survey vessels. Fire service organisations must make declarations as to the vessel’s compliance with NSCV Part G when the vessel enters into service and annually after that. Annual declarations must be kept in the safety management system for the vessel.

You need to apply to AMSA for approval to operate under Exemption 02.

A fire service vessel that was not required to hold a certificate of survey prior to 1 July 2013 can continue to meet the non-survey arrangements that applied to the vessel on 30 June 2013. You do not need to apply to AMSA for approval.

Fire services vessels required to have a certificate of survey

All other fire services vessels must hold a certificate of survey and meet the vessel and equipment standards identified in Marine Order 503 (Certificates of survey – national law). However, instead of the periodic survey requirements identified in Marine Order 503, fire service vessels can elect to:

  • undergo an initial survey and a five yearly renewal survey in accordance with Part 2 of the Marine Surveyor Manual
  • complete an annual declaration that the vessel complies with the applicable standard (the declaration must be kept in the safety management system for the vessel)
  • once the vessel is 15 years or older (or another age determined by AMSA), undergo a periodic survey at year two of the survey cycle (in addition to the five yearly renewal survey).

These survey arrangements are contained in section 5 of Exemption 24. When a fire service organisation applies for a certificate of survey for a fire service vessel, they should note that it is a fire service vessel in the application.

You can apply for a certificate of survey using the Application for a certificate of survey and/or load line certificate for a domestic commercial vessel form 521.

Similar to VMR vessels, the grandfathering arrangements for design and construction standards for fire service vessels that are already in operation will continue. However, contemporary safety equipment standards are being phased-in for all existing vessels, including fire service vessels. These depend on the vessel type, but often apply as equipment is replaced, and are independent of periodic survey requirements. Safety equipment lists and transitional requirements can be found on AMSA’s website.

Do fire service organisations need a certificate of operation for their vessels?

Like VMR vessels, unless exempt all fire service vessels are required to have a certificate of operation.

You can apply for a certificate of operation using Application for a certificate of operation form 504.

Fire service vessels will also be exempt from the requirement to have certificate of operation where the eligibility criteria and conditions of exemption in Exemption 03 are met. Similar to VMR vessels, fire service organisations do not need to approval to operate under this exemption.

Do crew on fire service vessel need a certificate of competency?

Exemption 24 exempts a person on fire service vessel from the requirement to hold a certificate of competency that would otherwise be required provided they:

  • meet local State or Territory recreational boating operator licensing requirements
  • complete training programs developed by the fire service organisation to ensure that they are competent to operate the vessel.

Related information 

Last Updated: 

2 December 2019