Each year more and more Australians are taking overseas holidays on the water. Whether you are taking a cruise, embarking on a yachting adventure, or travelling between islands on a local ferry, the following information will help you to have a safe and hassle-free journey.
Before you go
Make sure you have a valid passport whenever taking overseas holidays on the water. Many people don't realise that they need a passport to enter a foreign country's waters, regardless of whether they plan to disembark in that country. Check the validity on your passport – many countries require at least six months validity from the date you leave that country.
You may also need to arrange visas. Check with your cruise operator or holiday provider well in advance of your planned departure date.
In the excitement of embarking on a long-awaited holiday cruise it can be easy to overlook common sense safety precautions. When you board the ship, remember to familiarise yourself with safety equipment and evacuation procedures, and ensure there are sufficient life jackets in your cabin. It is also wise to take part in safety drills.
Consider your personal safety while on a cruise, just like you would at home or when travelling on land. Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour. Crimes like drink spiking, sexual assault and robbery can occur aboard cruise ships, and excessive consumption of alcohol can make you more vulnerable. As with other types of travel, it is important to take sensible precautions to protect your valuables, such as using the ship's safe and minimising signs of wealth.
If going ashore, double check the ship's departure time and allow sufficient time to return to the port.
Passengers on cruise ships are susceptible to the same illness and diseases as those on shore. You should consult your doctor prior to travelling and seek advice from ship staff about local health risks. If you feel unwell, you should consult the ship's doctor.
Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you travel to cover emergencies and any activities you might undertake as part of your cruise, including those onshore.
Medicare benefits are only payable to cruise passengers if you are travelling between two Australian ports, with no intermediate stops outside Australia, and services are provided by a Medicare-eligible doctor. Before departure, contact your cruise operator to find out whether a Medicare-eligible doctor will be available. Some passengers have been charged expensive fees for medical services while travelling between Australian ports because a Medicare-eligible doctor has not been available.
In the event of a medical emergency, you may need to be evacuated from the ship or the nearest port to a hospital with the appropriate facilities. Evacuation costs can be considerable and could exceed $100,000.
Local water travel
Inter-island ferries and river craft can be overloaded, poorly maintained or lack necessary life-saving equipment. Hundreds of people die every year in accidents and standards maintained by search and rescue services may not be as high or comparable to those in Australia, and these services may not be available in some locations. Check the travel advice for your destination for details.
When participating in local activities, especially adventure sports such as yachting and diving, be aware that independent tour operators may not work to same safety standards as in Australia. Sufficient life jackets and adequate safety equipment might not be provided and recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed.
Ensure your travel insurance covers you for all your activities, whether in water or on land, and don't forget to read the country travel advice for important information about the local security situation, laws and customs, and more.
If you intend to use jet skis or any other motorised water sport equipment, check first whether this is covered by your insurance policy. There have been numerous serious accidents involving jet skis in countries around the world. Foreigners are regularly detained and arrested by police following jet ski accidents until compensation can be negotiated between parties.
Strong coastal currents, including rip tides, can make swimming and diving dangerous. Local authorities can provide advice regarding local conditions.
Territorial waters and maritime exclusion zones
If navigating your own journey, it's important to be aware of local laws, including those relating to territorial waters and maritime exclusion zones.
Exclusion zones can be declared around coastal areas, often in the vicinity of sensitive government infrastructure such as military bases. Many countries rigorously patrol and defend their territorial waters from unauthorised vessels. You should ensure you are aware of the location of these areas and take extreme care not to stray into them.
The Israeli government has established naval restrictions on vessels travelling to the Gaza Strip. Attempts to breach the naval blockade along the coast of Gaza have been intercepted by the Israeli Navy and resulted in the injury, death, arrest and deportation of foreign nationals. We strongly advise against travelling by sea to the coast of the Gaza Strip in breach of Israeli naval restrictions or participating in any attempt to break the naval blockade.
In November 2009, five British yachtsmen were detained by Iranian officials after drifting into Iranian territorial waters. In June 2007, three men fishing in the Persian Gulf were detained by Iranian officials, who alleged they had strayed into Iranian-controlled waters. In March 2007, 15 British sailors and marines were detained for two weeks for the same reason.
Piracy and kidnapping
There are high levels of piracy in coastal areas of many countries around the world. Kidnapping for ransom can also occur. See our piracy and kidnapping advice for more information.
Natural disasters, severe weather and climate
All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but the Indian and Pacific Oceans experience more frequent large, destructive tsunamis. This is due to the many large earthquakes that occur along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches.
Tropical cyclones and hurricanes occur during the wet season in many places around the world. Communications may be disrupted in affected areas. You should closely monitor the local media and weather services for the most up-to-date weather information and follow the advice of local authorities. For more information, see our page about severe weather.
Where to get help
You can obtain consular assistance from the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact an Australian diplomatic mission, you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 (or 1300 555 135 within Australia).
Whatever the reason you are travelling and however long you'll be overseas, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.