Regulatory changes aimed to improve passenger safety on domestic commercial vessels

Changes to Marine order 504

While many operators already implement measures for passenger safety, we’ve now made these requirements compulsory under the Marine Order 504 (Certificates of operation and operation requirements – national law) Amendment 2020 (PDF 290 KB)

Do you have a question?

We encourage you to submit your question to us if you are unsure about how to implement the new measures.

From 31 May 2020 passenger vessel operators must do the following:

  • Have a procedure in their safety management system (SMS) that provides an effective and verifiable means of passenger monitoring to ensure the master of the vessel is able to find out the number of passengers on board the vessel at any time.
  • Have an emergency procedure in their SMS for responding to a situation where a passenger is unaccounted for.
  • For certain types of operations, have a procedure for counting passengers at specified points to ensure an accurate number of passengers embarking and disembarking the vessel. This will include a count:
    • at or around the time passengers embark and disembark the vessel at the start and end of  voyage, or at an intermediate stop, and
    • before departing any point where passengers have disembarked for a water activity such as diving, snorkelling or swimming
  • Record passenger counts in the vessels logbook. 

There is a community expectation that the safety of passengers has been considered before they get on board your vessel. These changes will help ensure the wellbeing of passengers during their voyage.   

MO504 requirement before 31 May 2020

MO504 requirement from 31 May 2020

The master must know the number of passengers on board at all times. However, there was no detail on how this could be practically achieved.

The safety management system must include a procedure for monitoring passengers so that the master of the vessel is able to find out the number of passengers on board at any time.

This ensures that consideration is given to the practical methods that the master and crew will use to monitor passengers when developing the safety management system.

The safety management system will therefore support the master to be in a position to know the number of passengers on board.

For voyages less than 12 hours, the master must ensure that at least one head count of passengers must be undertaken.

For vessels that are:

  • on a voyage of at least 30 minutes and no more than 12 hours
  • operating in B, C or D waters or operating in E waters outside daylight hours
  • licensed to carry up to 75 passengers

There must be a procedure in the SMS that includes a count of all passengers at or around the time of embarkation or disembarkation on the vessel.

The count has to be done to ensure an accurate record of the number of passengers embarking and disembarking.

There is no requirement for a full passenger count every time a person gets on or off a vessel that is stopped for a water-based recreational activity (like diving, swimming or snorkelling).  However, there will need to be a count before the vessel departs the site to make sure no-one is left behind.

Any additional state or territory based requirements must continue to be adhered to.

These requirements are intended to capture most private charter and cruise operations.  They are not intended to capture the majority of commuter ferry services.

This does not rule out head counts for other vessels – you may decide that head counts are the most practical means to monitor passengers.

The list of situations that must be covered by an emergency procedure included a person overboard, but did not include a person unaccounted for.

The SMS must include an emergency procedure for dealing with a situation where a passenger is unaccounted for.

No specific requirement to record the results of passenger counts in the log book

Results of passenger counts must be recorded in the vessel’s logbook.

This will assist in verifying compliance, as well as having a ready reference for the master of the most recent count


ven diagram

The flowchart below will assist in determining what your vessel is now required to do in relation to passenger monitoring and counts.

504 ven diagram

Review your safety management system 

All commercial vessels, including passenger vessels, should already be operating under Marine Order 504. With the new requirements, your passenger vessel operation must now also:

  • Include a procedure for monitoring passengers so that the master of the vessel is able to find out the number of passengers on board at any time.
  • For certain types of operations, undertake a count of all passengers on board the vessel on embarkation and disembarkation.
  • Record all passenger counts in the vessel’s logbook.
  • Your SMS must include information on when passenger counts will be conducted, particularly when passengers join the vessel, the vessel stops for water activities such as snorkelling, diving and swimming, and at the end of a voyage

You may already do these things, and have these measures in your SMS. If so, keep doing what you’re doing and review your Safety Management System periodically. If not, here’s some further advice on how to bring your SMS up to scratch.

1. Risk Assessment

Your risk assessment is a critical component of an effective SMS. This should be reviewed to identify risks to passengers on board, including the risks of persons overboard under various operating conditions.  Effective control measures should be identified to mitigate and manage these risks. This may mean alternative ways to monitor passenger movements such as increased monitoring or restricting access to areas that increase the risk of a person going overboard. 

Other important aspects to consider are:

  1. Passenger briefings, and encouraging passengers to look out for fellow passengers.
  2. Wearing of lifejackets under certain conditions such as poor weather and as defined in your Safety Management System.
  3. The responsible service of alcohol.
  4. Crewing numbers for various operating scenarios—such as parties and other events.
  5. The means by which passengers embark and disembark from the vessel, at the start, finish, or during the voyage.

2. Emergency procedures

In the event of a missing passenger, you must have a system in place to respond.  For example, you should identify how you will quickly muster and account for all persons on board and determine where and when the passenger went missing. This may include, for example, verifying that a passenger is in fact missing, by repeating a count, counting by a different method, making announcements, asking passengers to check on their companions.  It should also include what happens when it is more certain that someone is missing, for example, alerting rescue authorities, marking the last position, stopping the vessel or searching the water. 

Passengers should also know how to alert the crew if they believe someone has gone missing. 

Your SMS will also include emergency procedures for other situations:

  • a personal injury or other medical emergency
  • person overboard
  • adverse weather or water conditions
  • fire, collision, grounding, flooding, loss of steering or the master being incapacitated.

Assembly stations are also identified in the SMS, and information on emergency procedures is required to be displayed at assembly stations, in passenger cabins and other areas frequented by passengers.

Regular drills should be carried out to test the effectiveness of your emergency plans.

Knowing what you need to do in an emergency prevents confusion and makes a real difference in effectively dealing with a situation. Drills should be logged, and discussed with your crew to ensure ongoing learning, with any amendments recorded in your SMS.

3. Crewing assessment

Many vessels carry out a variety of passenger operations from regular sightseeing cruises, bespoke charters or tourism activities like fishing, snorkelling or whale watching. There is a community expectation that these events have been well planned, and the safety and wellbeing of passengers is considered. This includes having the appropriate number of qualified crew to ensure these events are both fun and safe. 

An appropriate crewing assessment is required as part of your Safety Management System which considers each operational scenario. 

A multi-purpose operator will have different crewing requirements depending on the type of activity being carried out, for instance, sight-seeing versus conducting adventure events like diving or a private social function after dark where alcohol is served. 

Assess the risk of each scenario and indicate how many crew you require to keep passengers safe. Document this in your SMS.

In the event of an incident, your crewing assessment may be requested by AMSA and any other investigating regulator or law enforcement body.

4. Passenger count requirements

To implement the passenger count requirements, your SMS must include a procedure on the counts that will be done. Passenger counts must be recorded in the vessel’s logbook. This can be done manually or electronically. The logbook must be available on board the vessel.

In addition to passenger counts, you must also have a procedure that sets out how you will monitor passengers so that the master is able to find out at any time how many passengers are on the vessel.  There are many different ways (and combinations of ways) of achieving this, including:

  • electronic monitoring
  • CCTV 
  • electronic ticketing 
  • head counts

These processes must be documented in the Safety Management System, and crew trained and assessed as competent to complete these tasks.

Counting passengers ‘at or around the time of embarkation or disembarkation’ does not have to be done literally at the point a passenger crosses from vessel to wharf. For example, it could be done within the first or last few minutes of a voyage, or it could be done at a muster point on land just after passengers have disembarked.  The outcome must be an accurate record of the number of passengers embarking and disembarking the vessel. 

Think about what is practical and effective for your particular operation. For example, it’s not practical and effective to count passengers who have disembarked onto a busy multi-user wharf, and it would be more practical and effective to count them just before arrival.

5. General safety duties apply to passengers as well

Passengers are expected to comply with the vessel’s safe operating procedures and can be held accountable for any behaviour that jeopardises their or anyone else’s safety.  

Passengers have a responsibility to behave safely while on board. Effective signage is also an effective way to alert passengers of any risks on a vessel. You can get our passenger safety decal for your vessel from one of our regional shop fronts or order yours online.

Get information

We encourage you to submit your question to us if you are unsure about how to implement the new measures.

Keep an eye on our website and or sign up to our AMSA update newsletter to get more information.

Transition period

You have a transition period of three months, to make these changes to your operation and it is anticipated full compliance can be met by 31 May 2020. We will publish guidance on a compliance approach in due course.

Our normal inspections will continue and there will be particular attention paid to your progress in complying with these requirements.

Make sure your SMS adequately addresses your passengers’ safety.

Read the Marine Order 504 amendments.

New safety sticker available

From the 31 May 2020, any domestic commercial vessel that carries passengers must meet new requirements for passenger safety.

To assist operators, a new sticker is available to display on your vessel to remind crew and passengers of their responsibilities.

You can order a free passenger head count sticker for your vessel using our order form.

Last updated: 

Monday 4 January 2021