Changes to passenger safety regulations—your questions answered

We have read and answered your questions about the new requirements for domestic commercial vessels that carry passengers.

The questions provided came from operators who submitted a query via our online form.  Read more about the regulatory changes to Marine order 504.

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About your vessel type

We operate under Class 4 hire/drive boats. Will these improvements to passenger safety effect our operation?

A Class 4 vessel is different from a passenger (Class 1 or 2) vessel and is not captured in the marine order 504 amendment. The responsibility for passenger numbers falls on the designated person hiring the vessel and these details should be included in the hire documentation. The assessment of the person or person(s) as competent to operate the vessel is found in marine order 504 schedule 2 and is specific to Class 4 vessels.

Class 4 operators must have an safety management system that complies with marine order 504 and incorporates the specifics of schedule 1 that are relevant to Class 4 vessels and the specific annex for hire-and-drive vessels (schedule 2).

Why aren't the new changes for only Class 1 vessels, where they are actually needed?

The rules have been designed to cover Class 2 passenger-carrying operations to ensure operators are properly assessing the risks associated with their operation. 

I have one vessel that is certified for 80 people and one for 70 people, why are the requirements different?

As vessels increase in size, the level of operational complexity increases. This means increased crew competencies, resourcing and policies and procedures. Our experience is that vessels certified for more than 75 passengers fall in this category.

My vessel has multiple floors and rooms, it is impossible for me to conduct a head count on the spot in some circumstances. What do you want me to do?

An operator has always been required to know how many passengers are on board at all times. We expect an operator should already have a system in place to conduct head counts at any point in time during a voyage or have a monitoring system to ensure all passengers are monitored and accounted for at all times.

About your operation

Why are you changing the rules for all operators because some people can't implement safe passenger management arrangements?

We have received many reports of incidents, including person overboard, passengers left behind and other emergencies that required evacuation. All of these require a system in place to account for passengers quickly.

By developing and implementing a procedure or system to achieve this, the master and crew will know what to do in the situation where a passenger in unaccounted for.

If I have only one stop to pick up additional passengers within the first 30 minutes of a five-hour voyage, do I still need to follow these rules? 

Before embarking on your five-hour voyage you will need to have accounted for all passengers on board by doing a headcount and recording this in your log book. If you are picking up additional passengers from multiple stops prior to the five hour journey, it is recommended you have a running tally. The 30 minute exclusion only applies to vessels on scheduled routes on voyages less than 30 minutes, for example, between ferry terminals.

In the application of these additional counts what constitutes 'night time' for E Water operations?

Night time is classified as after sunset and before sunrise. Sunset and sunrise times are published by state and territory governments. 

What if I operate in E waters but my vessel is surveyed for D Waters? 

Your certificate of survey will specify the number of passengers your vessel is allowed to carry. If it is under 75 passengers and certified as Class 1 or Class 2D then you do not have to comply with the headcount requirements as long as you are operating in E waters during daylight hours only. This should be documented in your logbook.

It is best practise to always complete headcounts assuring the accountability for passengers throughout the trip.

About your passengers

What are the lifejacket requirements for children and infants on eco tours in partially sheltered waters?

The National Standard for Commercial Vessels (NSCV) part B  (General Requirements) defines passenger as:-

passenger, for a vessel, means any person other than: 

(a) the master or a member of the crew; or 
(b) special personnel; or 
(c) a child not more than 1 year old; or 
(d) a person on board the vessel because of the master’s obligation to carry shipwrecked or distressed persons or because of circumstances the master or owner could not prevent.

There is no requirements under NSCV C7A for the carriage or allowance of safety equipment for infants.

The exact carriage of lifejackets for children is not prescribed in the NSCV for 1C, 1D or 1E vessels. You must, however, apply Section 2.2 of C7A Safety equipment—required outcomes to the provision of lifejackets for children:-

Required outcomes

2.2 Type and quantity

A vessel must be provided with safety equipment of type and quantity appropriate to control to acceptable levels the risks associated with the operation of the vessel, taking into account its area of operation and the number of persons on board as well as other risk factors that might be relevant.

2.3 Performance of safety equipment

Safety equipment must be designed, constructed and arranged to function so as to significantly enhance the probability of survival in the event of an incident.

Therefore if you are regularly taking children on your eco-tours lifejackets should be provided to meet the required outcomes in C7A rather than an adult lifejacket.



I only take four passengers at a time, why is AMSA creating red tape when my passenger numbers are so small? 

Vessel operations with a simple deck layout will easily be able meet the new requirements without having to change their current passenger management systems. 

I can see all my passengers with a turn of my head, why do I need to record numbers in my logbook for such a simple operation?

Vessel operations with a simple deck layout and carrying six or less passengers will easily be able meet the new requirements. If you already have appropriate systems, then you shouldn't notice a change with the new requirements.

What if a vessel is licensed to carry 100 passengers, but at certain times is carrying less than 75?

It doesn't matter how many passengers are on board your vessel, marine order 504 refers to what the vessel is permitted to carry. The certificate of survey or non-survey permit will list the number of passengers permitted. The total number of passengers permitted is the sum of the non-berthed and berthed values shown on the certificate.

About your log book and safety management system

I carry 10 or less passengers, mostly divers, and they are counted after each dive. Can I use my "daily dive sheet" to record "counts", rather than log book (saves duplication of information). My boat is only 10.9 metres ( AMSA 2c , 10+2). Do I also have to record "counts" to and from dive sites?

Your passenger management procedure in your safety management system should cover headcounts on, off and for water based activities. This should reference your dive log and the headcounts on disembarkation, dive operation and disembarkation should be made in the vessel log.

How many times does AMSA expect me to write these numbers down for a 5 hour voyage?

You should document the number of passengers every time you do a count, such as during embarkation and disembarkation. For example: 'departed {name} wharf at 0730 with 5 passengers and returned 1530 same 5 passengers disembarked.'

Marine order 504 states my logbook doesn't have to be in the boat and I keep it in my car. As I fill it in after my voyage, can I write down all of my passenger counts when I get back to the car?

While a logbook can be kept on shore, marine order 504 requires that a copy of your safety management system be available on board the vessel if it is reasonably practicable to do so given the size and use of the vessel. Based on this requirement, we would expect all passenger vessels to have a logbook onboard the vessel to meet the outcome this requirement. 

If you do not fit this requirement, you are still required to note down the passenger count as soon as practical and have in place a way of knowing the passenger count at all times. By writing this down when you do the passenger count, it is a demonstration that you are undertaking head counts.

How does AMSA propose a headcount to be conducted at ‘any time’ on large commercial charter vessel? Passengers are already counted on and off, however a headcount at ‘any time’ is a particularly difficult hurdle. 

The changes reinforce and clarify existing requirements. Many operators would already comply with, or exceed the requirements in marine order 504. Most passenger operations will have procedures in their safety management system for the master to know the number of passengers on the vessel, this may already include passenger counts on embarkation and disembarkation. 

Monitoring may involve counting, however it could also be through other methods such as using CCTV to monitor passengers, having crew stationed as sentries and configuring a vessel so that the master can see passengers. We do not require any particular method of counting or monitoring to be used, there are very low or no cost options that operators may consider for their operation. 

A discrepancy in the on vs off count can happen due to faulty counters, what sort of response is AMSA seeking in the form of an alert should the counts differ?

A discrepancy in count will need to be addressed in your safety management system. There should be training and checks in place to mitigate the chance of a discrepancy occurring. Checks may include comparing numbers 'on' against the manifest or ticket sales, and the numbers counted ‘off’ conducted by more than one means. 

The procedures in the safety management system should also address the response to a discrepancy. For example, if it has been determined that a person/s are still unaccounted for, following a thorough search of the vessel, then there must be a procedure to account for that missing person. This includes contacting emergency services, who should be notified before reporting the incident to AMSA. Any counts that are above previously recorded numbers, should be investigated and changes to procedures recoded in the safety management system.  

My safety management system states that the passengers are counted on embarkation and the number recorded in the log. Applying the ‘reasonably practicable test’, can the Master refer to the log, where the number of passengers is recorded, instead of visually monitoring the passengers?

Marine order 504 states that passengers should be counted onboard and recorded as an expected outcome and has been a requirement for passenger vessels since July 2015.

Reviewing your log entry to confirm the amount of passengers onboard would not meet the required monitoring requirements for passenger vessels.

Vessels certified to carry more than 75 passengers are required to have an effective and verifiable means of monitoring to ensure the master can verify the number of passengers on board at any time.

A log book referral is not an effective form of pro-active or reactive monitoring. It is a community expectation that passengers embarking on a voyage are accounted for at all times.

Can monitoring of passengers be both proactive and reactive depending on circumstances, in order to satisfy the reasonably practicable test?

For instance, proactive measures are in place when engaged in an off-vessel activity like snorkelling, where the number of passengers leaving the vessel and returning are monitored and recorded. The master can find out the number of passengers onboard by collating active tally boards.

Reactive procedures can be implemented on report of an incident or event whereby the master is able to deploy crew to count passengers and thereby find out the number of passengers.

We agree that both methods of monitoring are necessary for successful passenger management outcomes under marine order 504, many of which will already exist on Class 1 vessels.

1. Proactive: monitoring can be achieved using physical checks (logged head counts), passive monitoring (CCTV), physical monitoring (person overboard sentry) or other forms of technology. This is not prescribed and the safety management system needs to identify how this will be achieved. For water based activities, such as snorkelling, marine order 504 Schedule 1 7 (6)(bc) states that an additional count is required to ensure all passengers are accounted for prior to departure.

2. Reactive: procedural systems in your safety management system for an incident that require passenger verification (tally boards, physical count by crew, CCTV review) where the number of passengers can be verified, and a procedure to deal with a passenger(s) unaccounted for are required.

Last updated: 14 August 2023