Australian Maritime Safety Authority


Vessels and the National law

Vessels in Australia that are used for a commercial, government or research activity need to have a unique identifier and certificates of survey and operation (or a permit or exemption).

Certificate of survey

A certificate of survey shows that a vessel has been surveyed and meets standards for design, construction, stability and safety equipment.

The standards are listed in Marine Order 503 (Certificate of Survey) 2013.

Vessels that must have a valid certificate of survey are referred to as ‘Scheme S’ (survey) vessels.

Scheme S

Generally, Scheme S vessels are one or more of the following:

Use the online application My Boat to help you work out whether your vessel is a Scheme S vessel.

Apply for Scheme S

  1. Complete an application form.
  2. Got to your local marine safety agency and submit your application form as well as:
    • Provide them the evidence required to support your application which can include your vessel’s approved drawings, as well as survey reports from your accredited marine surveyor.
    • Pay them the required fees.    

Certificates of survey are usually valid for five years.

Periodic and renewal surveys

Periodic surveys are completed during the five year period and to renew the certificate when it expires.

The purpose of these surveys is to demonstrate that the vessel continues to meet the standards.

To have your vessel surveyed, or to get more information about your vessel’s survey regime speak to a surveyor or your local marine safety agency.

Learn more about getting your vessel surveyed.

Non-survey permits and exemptions

Some vessels are exempt from having a certificate of survey. These vessels may be either:

  • scheme NS (non-survey) vessels that are exempt under Exemption 2
  • vessels used in Class C restricted operations that are exempt under Exemption 40.

Scheme NS vessels

Generally, Scheme NS vessels:

  • are less than 7.5 metres in length
  • do not carry more than 4 passengers
  • only operate in sheltered waters
  • are not in the high risk class.

Use the online application My Boat to help you work out whether your vessel is eligible for Scheme NS.

Details about the vessels which are exempt from having a certificate of survey and the conditions that apply are listed in Marine Safety (Certificate of Survey) Exemption 2017 (Exemption 02). Scheme NS vessels still have to meet certain vessel and equipment standards.

Owners and masters of Scheme NS vessels have the same general safety duties as the masters or owners of any other domestic commercial vessel. These duties include implementing and maintaining a safety management system for the vessel and its operations. 

Scheme NS vessels are also required to have a certificate of operation unless exempt. When applying for a certificate of operation, Scheme NS vessel owners must also declare that the vessel meets the applicable standards.

Apply for Scheme NS

  • Complete an application form, including a declaration that the vessel meets the applicable standards
  • Provide the evidence required to support the application (this may include documents that show how your vessel complies with the conditions or standards mentioned in Exemption 2)
  • Pay any required fees.

Applications and payments must be made to your local marine safety agency.

Note: The following vessels do not need to apply to be Scheme NS:

    • existing vessels that were not required to have a certificate of survey on 30th June 2013
    • human-powered vessels including dragon boats
    • sailing vessels less than 7.5 m long with no auxiliary engine (or have an auxiliary engine that is less than or equal to 3.5 kW propulsion power)
    • personal watercraft.

Class C restricted operations permit

In general restricted ‘Class C’ vessels are non-passenger vessels or fishing vessels that are under 12 metres long, and only operate in designated C Restricted areas, D and E waters (see service categories).

To be eligible for restricted Class C, vessels must have certain equipment and meet conditions and standards for the design and construction of the vessel.

This information on the conditions and standards is in Marine Safety (Class C restricted operations) Exemption 2017 (Exemption 40).

Inspection surveys

Class C restricted vessels must have an initial inspection and then inspections every five years (in and out of water) to make sure they comply with design, construction and equipment requirements.

Apply for a Class C restricted operations permit

 Applications and payments must be made to your local marine safety agency.    

Other exemptions

There are two types of exemption:

General exemptions — these are exemptions that apply to any vessel, operation or people that meet the eligibility requirements.

Specific exemptions — a person may seek a specific exemption for their vessel, operation or qualification. The application for a specific exemption must demonstrate how the exemption won’t compromise the safety of the vessel or the people on board.

Apply for an exemption

To apply for a general exemption:

  • Complete the application form for the type of exemption you intend to apply for. The exemption applications are listed under forms.
  • Pay the required fees

Note: Not all general exemptions require you to lodge an application.

Applications and payments for general exemptions must be made to your local marine safety agency.

To apply for a specific exemption:

  • Complete an application form.
  • Pay the required fees.
  • Submit your application. You can do this by email to or by post to Operations Secretariat, AMSA, GPO Box 2181, Canberra ACT 2601.

Applications and payments for specific exemptions must be made to AMSA.    

For further information, see AMSA’s policy on Exemptions from the Domestic Commercial Vessel National Law.

Unique identifiers

Domestic commercial vessels must have a unique identifier.

Generally, your local marine safety agency will issue your vessel with a unique identifier when you apply for a certificate of survey or other vessel permission.

Alternatively you can apply for a unique identifier if you already have a vessel permission.

The rules about unique identifiers are in Marine Order 502 (Vessel identifiers – National law) 2013.

Existing vessels

Existing vessels can continue to use and display the unique identifier issued by state or territory marine safety agencies prior to 1 July 2013.

New vessels

Since 1 July 2013, new vessels going into commercial service for the first time must have the unique identifier affixed to the vessel.

Apply for a unique identifier

  • Complete an application form.
  • Pay the required fees (not in all states and territories, check with your marine safety agency).

Applications and payments must be made to your local marine safety agency.    

Displaying your unique identifier

Unique identifiers must be displayed in a noticeable place on both sides of the vessel, in a colour that contrasts with its background and readable in clear weather. The letters must be:

  • 100 mm high on vessels less than 30 metres in length
  • 150 mm high on vessels at least 30 metres in length
  • 50 mm high on vessels that don’t have enough space in the freeboard or topsides.

Tender vessels can use either:

  • the words ‘Tender to’ followed by the name or unique identifier of its parent vessel (i.e. Tender to 12345)
  • the name of the owner of the vessel followed by the word ‘tender’ (i.e. John Doe tender)
  • the unique identifier of its parent vessel followed by ‘T’ (i.e. 12345T).

My Boat

My Boat is an online application that helps owners, operators, designers, builders and surveyors work out what survey requirements (if any) and standards apply to a vessel.

Insert details about your vessel and My Boat generates a customised guide to the regulatory standards that apply to your vessel. It also helps you understand what modifications to your vessel or its equipment might be required, if you decide to upgrade or change your vessel.

Related information

High risk vessels (taken from Exemption 2)

  • Passenger vessels
  • Vessels that carry dangerous goods (except petroleum or gas products used on the vessel, and fireworks carried on the vessel for a fireworks display)
  • Vessels with a net reel, deck load, crane or lifting device that is likely to reduce the stability or watertight integrity of the vessel
  • Vessels operated primarily for towage
  • Vessels with an inboard petrol engine
  • Support vessels in the offshore oil or gas industry
  • Fast craft
  • Hire and drive vessels that operate before sunrise or after sunset (including vessels that are hired overnight)
  • Powered landing barges that are designed or used in a way that is likely to adversely affect their stability
  • Vessels that AMSA or a marine safety agency has deemed as high risk.

Service categories

Use the following table to work out your vessel service category. For example, a passenger vessel carrying 30 people and operating out to 15nm has a service category of 1C.

Vessel use

Indicated by

Passenger vessel (13 or more passengers)


Non-passenger vessel (up to 12 passengers)


Fishing vessel


Hire and drive vessel used by the hirer only for recreational purposes


Unlimited domestic operations (no longer available to domestic commercial vessels)


Extended offshore operations (beyond 200nm from the baseline of the Australian mainland, Tasmania, a recognised island but within the EEZ)

B Extended

Offshore operations (within 200 nm from the baseline of the Australian mainland, Tasmania, a recognised island but within the EEZ)


Restricted offshore operations (within 30 nm from the baseline of the Australian mainland, Tasmania, a recognised island; within 50 nm of the baseline of Queensland, within the Great Barrier Reef Region or the Torres Strait Zone; while remaining within the EEZ)


Restricted offshore operations — specified areas

C Restricted

Partially smooth water operations


Smooth water operations


For information on sheltered waters boundaries (D or E operational areas) in any state or territory, contact your local marine safety agency.

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