BENDING THE RULES - A few hints when registering your boat in Queensland

By Peter Kerr, of Lizard Yachts and MV Making Tracks

When considering registering a boat in Queensland it might help to consider the rules. Length of boat for example is important; over 12 metres you require new advanced licence, over 15, extensive insurance.

Of course you could just bend the rules like it appears the government does. Not break, just bend. Bending the rules is nothing new in survey vessels; it is all in how you describe the item in question.

An example is steps in vessels. If you describe staircases as steps you must build to exact heights and spacing, however if you call the same staircase a ladder you can change to suit your requirements.

As you know I build many vessels to survey, with quite strict requirements. Whilst cruising on Makin Tracks last year I had the opportunity to look at many survey vessels and reflect on their compliance. In the Whitsundays you can't help but look at the massive charter fleet and although most of the charter fleet looks in good condition, this can be deceiving with many items on mostly imported boats not to regulation.

Some can be minor, some up to life threatening items (no handrails-life lines across the bow on a few catamarans, hatches just above the waterline, rubber ducky's with too many people in them).

Vessels built in OZ to survey appear to have a higher standard than imported vessels. I am not only talking about small items like hand rails, I hear of many structural failures in some imported boats. Buyers be aware.

This is about bending the rules. Imported boats come with a piece of paper that implies that they comply. This is not necessarily the case and the government simply accepts without necessarily opening their eyes. I find this sad as the hire customers appear to be at risk at times. Charter boats not fully complying I find is a little bit negligent, but then you have a look at the Government vessels.

The first government vessel I noticed was a Water Police rubber ducky motoring through the anchored fleet at Airlie on dusk. His nav lights faded to nothing at ½ mile instead of the required 2 Miles.

Next I noticed a Patrol catamaran anchored with us and 20 other boats at Tongue Bay.
This cat had tinted front windows in front of the Helm (this boat was anchored just in front of a charter cat that didn't have a life rail across the bow!). You might think that tinted windows are a good idea; it is during the daylight, but it does not comply with international standards and is definitely not allowed in survey vessels.

A while later we were waiting around the public pontoon for our turn. So while waiting you have a look around. The pontoon is next to the Government vessels in the Marina, yes the PATROL cat was there and also the Water Police a large mono. To my surprise it also had tinted windows at the helm position. This raised my eyebrows as we had found three government vessels that didn't comply with survey regulations. When you realise that this is about 50% of the fleet - that is a worry. Also of course this was just casual observation. I wonder what I would find in a full survey.

I wrote to all 3 departments involved and notified them of the issues. I have only received 1 response to date. At least now that they have been notified they can't plead ignorance at possible future litigations, e.g. coroners inquests.

It appears to me that the government agencies don't enforce the rules on imported boats in the charter fleet and don't comply with their own boats? But, it gets better.

I monitor all Queensland Government Tenders, you never know when a government contract is offered (boats of course as I am no good at tarmac-ing roads). You may have noticed a previous article on 3 x new Water Police 22m Power Cats. These cats in the tender documents are described as 22m long and probably to be registered as 22m long. The plans however stipulate that the boats are 23.99m long. Above 24m and the vessels go into another higher class. These cats are to be registered as under 25 knots. (not fast craft, fast craft are above 25knots).

These cats have large engines, (2 x MTU Series 60 Fast Patrol Vessels Propulsion Engines 615kw) which will be governed down by approximately 1/3 to make the boats comply with the lower speed requirement. Of course it is only a 5 minute job to change back to full speed with a small shifter and screwdriver - and in my limited experience having a further 1/3 extra RPM could increase boat speed between 5-10 Knots or more.

Tender documents advise that the boats must be fully equipped with all machinery to suit the full engine size and will be tested to make sure that the boats achieve full boat speed with the full horse power. This change to suit the lower rules is interesting in that, survey vessels that go faster than 25 knots must be built to a higher standard, (just one of the requirements, requires that the hulls must be fully welded instead of stitch welded) and be manned by a person with higher qualifications.

For a small boat this is not a big deal, but in a 22-24m vessel this is a very big issue.
Some Survey vessels do use this loophole to downgrade their vessels to this regulation but they are only lowering the motor size by a small margin, nothing like these new high speed cats.

In my humble opinion, this is a very good example of bending the rules. Is it legal? Yeah probably. But if you see these new Cats going above 25 knots they are probably in violation of the law (MSQ, AMSA and International Shipping Standards). Why the Government doesn't simply build to the proper standard in the first place I don't understand.

But back to my point in possibly saving rego. money and or MSQ hassles.

When you register your boat (recreational) in Queensland, you are asked the questions:
Length? (Length, not exact requirement) What is the maximum beam? (exact requirement)
What is the maximum draught? (exact requirement)

So what is length do you ask? Well the Transport Operations (Marine Safety) Regulation says:

6 References to length of ship: A reference in this regulation to the length of a ship is a reference to
(a) for sections 40 and 176, and schedule 10, sections 9 (other than section 9(2)(c)(i)) and 19the distance measured from the foremost tip of the hull to the aftermost part of the hull, excluding appendages; or
(b) otherwise the measured length of the ship within the meaning of the USL code, section 1, part 2. Section 140 is to do with pilots and section 176 is to do with dangerous cargo. Schedule 10 sect 9 is to do with restricted use flag and schedule 10 sect 19 is pilotage fees.

So for most ships length is what the USL Sect 1 Part 2 says it is and it says that:

The USL Sect 1 Part 2 says Measured Length- apply the definition from Clause 1.8 of Part B of the National Standard for Commercial Vessels (NSCV).

So for most ships length is what the NSCV says it is and it says that:

length in relation to a vessel, a longitudinal measure of the vessel used for the purposes of estimating risk, complexity, mass, volume or other characteristics. A number of different defined types of length are used within this National Standard to accommodate the specific needs of particular sections. NOTE: The definition of measured length is contained within this Part of the NSCV. Definitions for load line length and waterline length are specified within the relevant Parts and Sections of this National Standard.

The NSCV also says that measured length is: measured length (Lm ) means the greater of
a) LD; and
b) b) 0.96LOA. where L D = the length on deck, in metres (see definition in Clause A4).
L O A=the length overall, in metres (see definition in Clause A4).
NOTE: Guidance on establishing measured length is contained in Annex A of this Part of the NSCV.

Annex A of the NCSV is a riveting read with all sorts of information about ways to measure length. So it appears you can choose from the various ways of measuring your ship's length, particularly if you are not a commercial vessel.

You can use for example, Waterline length or hull length. Under survey there is a +4% for measuring some boats. Plus appendages. Boating clubs or racing rules can differ in this measurement.

Basically if you use a measurement that brings your boat back to, for example 4.5m, with a 4.49m hull with another metre of swim platforms and anchor rollers for a length overall of 5.2m, then your rego fee goes from $180 to $80. Or use a measurement of under 11.9m to be under the proposed new 12m advanced drivers licence, and similarly 14.9m to be under the 15m plus insurance reg.

Given the quite incredible vagueness of the legislation and the governments penchant for bending the rules, I am not suggesting breaking the law only interpreting the law to suit your requirements (this is exactly what is happening in some survey vessels).

On another requirement:
If you have a 5/6hp motor on your small tender, this appears to require that this boat must be registered. This can be easily solved by turning down the carburettor to 4hp, And then does not require reg, same as survey again.

This is only my interpretation of the regulations as I read them. I am not a qualified lawyer.

Happy sailing or motoring and look out for fast craft.
Peter Kerr, MV Makin Tracks