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Travelling by boat

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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.

Purchase the right travel insurance policy that includes suitable coverage for accidental injury, hospitalisation abroad, and medical evacuation at sea (the cost of medically evacuating a patient from a cruise ship by helicopter can easily reach $A 150,000). Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

If embarking on a long trip, make sure you register your travel plans with the relevant authorities. Advise family or friends on your plans, including approximate time frames, sailing route and how to contact you in an emergency.

Cruise ships

In the excitement of embarking on a long-awaited holiday cruise it can be easy to overlook common sense safety precautions. Our going on a cruise page can help you prepare before you sail off.

Local water travel

In some places, inter-island ferries and river craft can be overloaded, poorly maintained or lack necessary life-saving equipment. Ensure any vessel you intend to board is carrying appropriate safety equipment and that life jackets are provided for all passengers.

Hundreds of people die every year in boat accidents and standards maintained by search and rescue services may not be comparable to those in Australia. Avoid travelling in ferries and speedboats after dark. Check the travel advice for your destination for details.

Local activities

When participating in local activities, especially adventure sports such as yachting and diving, be aware that independent tour operators may not work to the same safety standards as in Australia. Always use available safety equipment, such as lifejackets or seatbelts, even if the locals don't. If appropriate safety equipment is not available, use another provider.

Ensure your travel insurance covers you for all your activities, whether in water or on land, and 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.

Some operators may request your passport as a deposit or guarantee before providing equipment. Passports are valuable documents that should be appropriately protected. Do not provide passports as deposits or guarantees under any circumstances. 

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, 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. Ensure you are aware of the location of these areas and take extreme care not to stray into them.

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. See our severe weather page for more information.

Where to get help

Depending on the nature of your enquiry, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurer. Your travel insurer should have a 24 hour emergency number.

The Consular Services Charter explains what the Australian Government can and can't do to assist Australians overseas.

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).