Tenders and auxiliary vessels

Find out about the special arrangements for vessels which meet the definition of ‘tender’ under the national law.

Tenders are small vessels used to transport people or goods between a vessel and the shore, or for a purpose associated with a parent vessel. They are also sometimes known as auxiliaries or dories.

The national law applies to vessels used for a commercial purpose, including tenders. There are special arrangements for vessels which meet the definition of ‘tender’ under the national law.  

Is it a tender?

To determine if the vessel is a tender under the national law, the vessel must:

  1. Be used to transport goods or up to 12 people, or for a purpose associated with the parent vessel’s operation.
  2. Operate in line of sight of its parent vessel, or another distance approved in writing by AMSA, or in a marina or mooring area.
  3. Measure less than 7.5 metres or another length approved in writing by AMSA.
  4. Measure less than its parent vessel.
  5. Not be powered by an inboard petrol engine.

Sometimes a vessel is called a tender by its owner, but if it doesn’t meet the above criteria it cannot access these special arrangements. However, other exemptions may apply.

Special arrangements for tenders

Different arrangements apply depending on whether the tender entered the national system before or after 1 July 2013.

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Tender vessels—when to use an EPIRB

Distress beacons help save lives every day, but there’s a quicker way for tenders to call for help.

If a vessel breaks down, it’s faster to call someone nearby than to wait for a rescue service, so make sure you equip tender vessels with a marine radio, mobile or satellite phone.

If you own or operate a tender vessel, it’s your responsibility to ensure the safety of your crew at all times.

Tenders without phones or radios not only puts lives at risk, it can lead to unnecessary search and rescue responses.

In a distress situation, use a phone or radio first to alert the parent vessel or marine rescue.

If neither are available, or there isn’t time, activate an emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB).

That way our search and rescue services are available for life-threatening emergencies.

Keeping crew safe at sea

Equipping crew with the right safety equipment is part of the national law and includes making sure your crew can call for help when they need it.

The best way for a tender to maintain contact with the parent vessel is with a phone or radio and within visual contact.

So if a tender vessel breaks down, runs out of fuel, or there’s an emergency, the crew can quickly call for help from someone close by.

In a genuine emergency, a radio or phone will also help rescuers communicate with the crew and find out the vessel’s position, nature of distress, number of people on board, and type of assistance needed.

How to use an EPIRB

Before setting out, ensure all EPIRBs are registered and the details are up to date—online registration is easy and you can update your registration details anytime.

The way to activate an EPIRB depends on the make and model. Check the manufacturer’s instructions before you head out to sea.

EPIRBs should only be used when a vessel is in genuine distress, as it results in an immediate search and rescue operation. 

Make sure the EPIRB is stored in a safe, dry place so it can’t be set off accidentally.

If an EPIRB is activated accidentally, switch it off and call the AMSA Response Centre on 1800 641 792. There is no penalty for accidental activation.


  • Use a radio or phone to maintain contact between tender and parent vessel.
  • Only deploy a beacon in a life-threatening situation.

Marina tenders

Tenders operating in a marina or mooring area that are not connected to a parent vessel (sometimes known as an ‘auxiliaries’), are mostly subject to the same requirements as other tenders. However, these tenders must be covered by a certificate of operation unless they are otherwise eligible for a certificate of operation exemption under another part of Exemption 3.  

For example they may be exempt if they are:

  • class 2 and 3 vessels less than 7.5 metres in length, operate only in sheltered waters and do not carry passengers, or
  • human powered.

As these tenders are not connected to a parent vessel, they must have their own safety management system.

Crewing and certificate of competency—low complexity duties

Exemption 38 allows crew to operate vessels, in certain circumstances, without the certificate of competency that would otherwise be required. 

The Exemption 38 conditions for tenders operating in marina or mooring areas are different to those for other tenders. 

Read more about Exemption 38 and low-complexity certificates of competency.

Last updated: 

Wednesday 9 October 2019