Beginners guide to owning a boat in Victoria: types of boats, costs, safety, and laws

boats at sunset in Melbourne

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted December 13, 2022

Looking to set sail on your own vessel? Check out these tips before buying your own boat, such as the costs, safety requirements, and the laws for the water.

There’s something magical about heading out on the water, gazing at the horizon and enjoying the nature breeze.

That said, there is a lot to know and think about before setting sail. From what type of boat to get to ongoing maintenance, where to go, insurance, and boat safety requirements, here's what to know about buying a boat. 

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What kind of boat should I get? What are the different boat types? 

While there are almost as many boats as there are cars, boat types can generally fall into three categories – motorboats (with an engine), sailboats (propelled by sails), and man-powered boats (e.g., a kayak).

Buying a boat really depends on your needs – what you plan to do, who you plan to go with, where you’re going, and your budget. For example, new or used? Have you got room to store it? Can you afford the maintenance? Is it practical to your lifestyle? 

Boats for fishing

It’s good to decide whether you are more interested in onshore or offshore fishing, as this may change the type of fishing boat you require.  

If you’re looking for a boat to go fishing, you may be looking at a dinghy, bass boat, bay boat, catamaran, cuddy cabin, sport fisher, game boat, or even a convertible fishing boat if you’re looking to fish offshore.

Boats for sailing

Avid sailors may wish to look at a beach or cruising catamaran, centre console boat, sailing dinghy, racer cruiser, or a motorsailer. 

Boats for water sports

If your idea of boating has more to do with taking friends and family on activities like water skiing, tubing and wakeboarding, you are looking for a boat that is manoeuvrable on calm waters. A leisure boat would be more your style – think a deck boat, runabout, outboard boat, or bowrider. 

Boats for travel

When planning for longer trips, such as setting sail for days on end, you’ll need a boat that can travel for longer distances and has adequate room for sleeping, eating and movement, such as a cruising catamaran, cabin cruiser, houseboat, or yacht. 

Remember that all boats have strict capacity requirements, so take this into account if you are planning to have people join you aboard.  


Man and child fishing off boat

Fishing off your own boat can be fun for the whole family. Image: Getty. 


Buying a new and used boat

What should I ask when buying a used boat? 

Depending on the size of the boat you are wanting to buy, for a beginner, they can be extremely complicated vehicles to understand – much like learning how to drive a car.

Once you have decided on the type of boat you are in the market for, consider asking the seller the following: 

  • What warranties does the boat come with?
  • Does it come with the trailer?
  • Can you take the boat for a trial on the water?

Buying and selling second-hand boats is very common, much like the traditional car market. When buying a second-hand boat, you might want to ask:

  • Why is the boat being sold? 
  • How often has it has been used? 
  • How many owners has the boat had?
  • Is there paperwork on regular maintenance, services and safety checks?
  • What issues have you had with the boat? 
  • How the boat has been stored?
  • What is the status of registration?
  • Can a marine surveyor come and inspect the boat?

Victorian boating laws and regulations

Do I need a marine or boat licence?  

To operate a registered boat in Victoria, you must have a marine licence. These can be obtained through VicRoads, where you will need to book in for three tests: 

  • Eyesight test
  • Marine and boat knowledge test – a computer test of 30 multiple choice questions, where you must get 26 correct to pass
  • Personal Watercraft (PWC) endorsement test if you want to be able to use a PWC (such as a jet ski) from the age of 16. Kayaks and canoes do not need be registered

Tests can be taken by booking in with VicRoads, or an accredited trainer with Maritime Safety Victoria. 

The test will give you skills in boat handling, navigation, buoyage, and operation of your boat, as well as what to do in an emergency. Results from the test remain valid for 12 months. After this, you will need to pay for your marine licence to keep it current each year. 

The above relates to marine licences for those aged 16 and over. Those aged 12-16 can apply for a restricted marine licence where certain caveats apply, such as not being able to operate a vessel after sunset, not being able to tow any people, vessels, or objects, and operating at speeds of 10 knots or below. 


Boats in Melbourne at nightfall

Boating can open up a whole new world of activities. Image: Getty. 


Can anyone come on board and pilot my boat? 

Owning a boat is like owning a car. People with a valid marine licence can captain your vessel, but it is important to check your individual boat insurance to ensure you are covered for others to navigate before setting for the seas. 

If visiting Victoria from interstate, you only need to convert to a Victorian marine licence if you are going to pilot a boat for more than three months. 

Can I pilot my boat wherever I like? 

From the open seas to calm lakes and rivers, there are many places to steer your vessel in Victoria. Maritime Safety Victoria has a comprehensive list of waterway rules explaining where recreational boating is permitted across the state.  

Just like roads, there are rules of the seas and how to interact with other boats. This includes adhering to speed limits, when to give way, how to approach other vessels, and where activities such as fishing and knee-boarding are allowed.

What do I need to check before heading out on my boat? 

You will want to ensure the place you intend to set sail has a boat ramp, ample parking (if needed) and that the water is safe for boating activities. 

Become familiar with marine weather warnings and hazards, conditions, wind and wave conditions, and whether the water is at low or high tide. 

Double check all safety gear is on board, your marine battery is charged, and that you are adequately insured before your journey with this boating checklist.

Can I consume alcohol on my boat? 

Just like driving a car, alcohol impairs your ability to pilot a boat safely. Victorian police have the authority to ask anyone on the boat for a random breath test.

All persons in charge of the vessel must adhere to strict limits: 

  • Under the age of 21 – blood alcohol limit of 0.00
  • Over 21 – blood alcohol limit of 0.05
Water skiing at back of boat

Specific boats are needed to enjoy watersports safely. Image: Getty. 


What safety requirements are needed on a boat?

While your boat should have a proper inspection by a marine surveyor, certain boat safety equipment must be on board while in operation, though this varies depending on the type of boat, water, and distance from the shoreline. 

Some safety equipment needed on board include: 

  • Life jackets – there must be a life jacket for every person on board
  • Marine flare kit for emergencies
  • Radio beacon and marine radio
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Buoyant waterproof torch 
  • Anchor and chain
  • Compass

Remember to always notify someone that you will be on your boat and your approximate location. 

Ongoing boating costs

How much does a boat cost to run? 

While boat costs can vary depending on the size and level of luxury of your vessel, there are certain costs to factor in for owning a boat.

As well as the purchase price, in which you may utilise marine finance or a boat loan, costs included in the buying and running of a boat can include: 

  • Boat insurance
  • Marine surveying fee
  • Transfer fees (if buying boat and / or trailer off another seller)
  • Boat cost and registration, which must be lodged with VicRoads, and renewed every 12 months
  • Boat Maintenance (oil changes and engine servicing)
  • Boat trailer cost and registration (seperate to boat registration)
  • Boat trailer maintenance – this can include regular tyre and corrosion checks, break and light checks, and ongoing servicing
  • Storage and mooring (if not keeping at home)
  • Equipment and accessories (life jackets, emergency beacon, radio, flashlight, fishing gear, water skis)
  • Boat license renewal costs
  • Fuel costs
  • Emergency roadside assistance for your batteries and boat trailer

Boat insurance

When you’ve gone to all that work for boat ownership, your boat is something you want to protect. Boat Insurance can cover your boat, trailer and permanent fixtures from loss or damage due to circumstance such as theft, flooding, storms, fire, and collision.

RACV Members with Total Care and Extra Care roadside assistance plans will cover boat trailers carrying up to eight tonnes and nine metres.


fishing boat

You may wish to dock your boat at a marina. Image: Getty. 


How to store your boat

There are generally two ways to store your boat: on your property, or at a facility. Either way, to improve the lifecycle of your boat, when storing, ensure:

  • Your boat is covered, either in a car port or if at a facility for outdoor boat storage, with a material cover, so that it is secured from animals, wind, rain, and theft
  • You have room to get around the boat. Vessels such as sailboats need airflow to prevent odour, while you will also need to room to attend to your boat to access equipment, perform maintenance checks or add improvements
  • It is not stored on a slant. Boats stored on hills or slants can place damage to the hull of the boat, so it is imperative weight is taken off the keel, so it remains on an even ground


The information provided is general advice only. Before making any decisions please consider your own circumstances and the Product Disclosure Statement and Target Market Determinations. For copies, visit As distributor, RACV Insurance Services Pty Ltd AFS Licence No. 230039 receives commission for each policy sold or renewed. Product(s) issued by Insurance Manufacturers of Australia ABN 93 004 208 084 AFS Licence No. 227678.