Autonomous vessels in Australia

There is increasing use of remotely operated and autonomous technology in Australia and worldwide across a range of fields.

A range of sub-surface and surface remotely operated and autonomous vessels are already in operation in Australia. These vessels are being used in:

  • oceanography
  • hydrography
  • the off-shore oil and gas industry
  • scientific research. 

We anticipate that other parts of the maritime industry will embrace this technology in the future.

We refer to these vessels as remotely operated and autonomous. Other organisations may refer to them as ‘unmanned’, ‘remote controlled’ or simply ‘autonomous’.

How we regulate remotely operated and autonomous vessels

We regulate remotely operated and autonomous vessels as:

Currently, these vessels are subject to the same regulatory framework as other vessels, including for survey standards and crewing requirements. This is because the definitions of ‘vessel’ in the Navigation Act 2012 and the Marine Safety (Domestic Commercial Vessel) National Law Act 2012 are very broad.  

Flexibility in regulation of remotely operated and autonomous vessels

We know there are challenges in applying existing regulations to new technology. We are exploring these challenges. 

We are supportive of emerging technology and are working with stakeholders and industry groups to ensure we have appropriate regulations in place.

AV Policy

Our everyday work includes the following activities:

  • providing regulatory advice
  • processing applications 
  • compliance and enforcement activities. 

We have a set of policy principles that guide our decisions under the current regulatory framework. 

Some of the key principles are:

  • Autonomous and/or remotely operated vessels must be as safe as manned vessels.
  • Risks to the safety of people, other vessels and the environment must be appropriately addressed.
  • The owner and/or master is responsible for the safety standards and operations of the vessel.
  • For lower risk operators who have a strong safety compliance history, a lighter touch regulatory approach may be appropriate.

More information is available in our Autonomous Vessel Policy 

In some cases, equivalent means of compliance and exemptions may be available.


We have introduced a range of risk-based general and specific exemptions. These exemptions provide flexibility and allow us to assess operations and vessels on a case-by-case basis.

A specific exemption exempts the vessel from a requirement entirely. This can be subject to conditions. The proposed arrangement must not jeopardise the safety of vessels or people. You need to demonstrate the extraordinary reasons why the vessel cannot comply with the requirement that applies to it. 

While the use of exemptions can be appropriate during the formative stages of regulating these vessels, for the future, we are working on a new regulatory approach that will be sustainable in an environment of rapid technological change.

Read more information about exemptions

Equivalent means of compliance

The equivalent means of compliance (or EMOC) process allows industry to propose and implement innovative solutions to achieve the required safety outcomes identified in the standards. 

The proposed equivalent means of compliance must be at least as effective for meeting the required outcomes for safety as the deemed-to-satisfy solution in the standard. You don’t need to justify why an equivalent means of compliance is necessary, just that it’s equivalent.

Equivalent means of compliance will generally relate to construction, materials or equipment.  You cannot apply for an equivalent means of compliance relating to manning.

Read more information about equivalent means of compliance.

Improving our regulation of emerging technology in Australia

We are working in the following ways to make sure our regulations are appropriate and sustainable:

  • We contribute to the work of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to ensure that international developments are in line with Australia’s interests.
  • We consult and collaborate with stakeholders, the regulated community and leaders in the fields of design, technology, operation and regulation.
  • We are increasing flexibility within the existing regulatory framework. At the same time, we are also working on options for a new regulatory framework.
  • We are building internal expertise to respond to enquiries and assess applications. 

Our actions mean we can successfully design and enact regulatory change. This will enable a minimum level of safety assurance for stakeholders and the Australian community.

Our Regulatory Plan explains our five-year approach to the regulation of remotely operated and autonomous vessels.

Australian Autonomous Vessel Forum

We hosted the Australian Autonomous Vessel Forum in Canberra in September 2019 to collaborate with key stakeholders in autonomous vessel technology and regulation.

Read the Australian Autonomous Vessels Forum—Post-event Communique PDF251.98 KB.

Contact us for enquiries or to submit an application

We have a team of experts in regulatory and operational matters relevant to remotely operated and autonomous vessels. They have domestic and international expertise. 

If you have an enquiry or application about remotely operated or autonomous vessels, please contact our team through AMSA Connect.

Last updated: 24 August 2022