Legal responsibilities of a Master

The Master is responsible for: –

  1. Navigation and control of the vessel. In the event of a collision, first rule applied may be “was the vessel travelling at a safe speed”? Collision Avoidance Rules state that vessel must always travel at a safe speed.
  2. Preparation and safety of the vessel. Was the vessel and all the required safety equipment in good working order and available in the event of an emergency.
  3. Safety of the passengers and their behaviour. Passengers must be made aware of; potential risks, where the safety equipment is located and how it works. Life jackets must be demonstrated before casting off. In the event of an emergency, passengers must be able to correctly fit their jackets without the Masters assistance as the Master may be controlling the vessel. 


To perform their legal requirements, a Master must have a special blend of proficiency, skill and discipline including the practices below.

Decisions are made on knowledge, experience and training.

A Master needs to have confidence in their ability to navigate the vessel over waterways that may contain hazards.

Hazards may be in the form of other vessels, swimmers, shallow depths, isolated dangers, reefs, bridges, adverse weather, tides, and broaching or choppy seas.

Doubt equals Danger

When in doubt, don’t go out! Opposed to confidence is the uncertainty of the situation; a vessel in danger represents the potential loss of life.

Every hazard requires some knowledge of their nature and effect on your situation. The potential risk to your vessel, and your passengers, all must be assessed before casting off.

Prevent fatigue and stress

Sharing of helming and responsibilities reduces risk to you and your passengers. Constant steering and keeping a sharp lookout is stressful, and takes considerable concentration and focus. A three-hour watch is considered long enough for any helmsman, any longer increases the risk of a collision or grounding.

Leadership creates confidence. 

The Master must be calm, in control and keep the passengers informed of the passage. A clear briefing of the vessel and its safety features is paramount before casting off, in particular life jackets and their operation. The Master should also be a good communicator to promote the passengers confidence.


Situational awareness.

The Master must maintain a proper lookout at all times.

The Master should be informed of the most recent weather forecast and possibly have a local weather application on a smartphone that may be updated every 10 minutes. Knowledge of weather patterns help in the planning and preparation for a perfect and stress free day out for family and friends.

Risk management

Be prepared and don’t wait until a crisis arises. The Master should always calculate for potential collisions and other risks so to navigate the vessel safely avoiding close encounters that can quickly become collisions.

Basic preparation may include: – checking safety equipment, getting a weather forecast, securing loose items, consideration of potential fire hazards, training someone on how to handle lines, using the one-third principle for fuel.

Know your boat 

The vessel should be suitable for the conditions. What is the safe passenger and load capacity? Was the vessel designed for smooth water or crossing ocean bars? Does it have adequate freeboard in adverse conditions? Is the dead rise appropriate for the location? Is the roll soft or stiff when at anchor or to hold a course in a beam sea?


Qualifications start at a recreational boating licence and can progress to; VHF radio operator, practical boat handling, navigation., Also worth considering are commercial grade Coxswains and Master V certification.


You never stop learning.

Safe boating