Powerboating is how we enjoy modern-day boating on all sorts of waters. It has been becoming increasingly popular all around the world, and that includes South Africa. However, as more people enjoy watersport activities, the more crowded the shores will be. And hence, with increasing popularity, we have to be aware of safety. In this article, we will cover all the essential precautions a powerboater should take in South Africa.

Powerboating and Skipper’s License

In South Africa, you will absolutely require a skipper’s license to operate a boat. According to SAMSA, operating any vessel less than 9m in length and having an engine of 15hp or above will require a skipper’s license.

If you are a foreigner on a vacation in South Africa and have a different license, for example, the RYA Powerboat Level 2 license, then you can still drive a powerboat in South Africa. You are exempted from obtaining a skipper’s license for the time being. If you are residing in South Africa for a long period of time, you will eventually need a skipper’s license.

Essential Precautions a Powerboater Must Take in South Africa  

Adventures are a thrill because there are chances of hazards along the way. However, your first rule of the adventure should always be ‘safety first’. Let us see the essential precautions you should take as a powerboater.

1. Get familiar with your vessel

Your vessel is unique and so are you. You should understand how your vessel operates and functions. Familiarise yourself and others with the storage and safety gear present on your boat.

2. The Engine Cut-off Switch

If you are a powerboat operator, you should be familiar with the engine cut-off switch. It is a mechanism that kills engine power if the operator displaces abruptly or inadvertently. This cut-off switch must be worn on your jacket all the time while you are driving the boat.

3. Life Jackets and Personal Floating Devices (PFDs)

There should be at least one life jacket per passenger on your boat. If you are driving an open powerboat, like a pontoon, tiller, or tender boat, these jackets must be worn by all passengers 100% of the time. All children 12 years old or under must wear life jackets all the time.

If you are not wearing a life jacket for reasons, make sure you carry your personal floatation device (PFD) with you. These life jackets and personal floatation devices must be ‘SAMSA-approved’, having the standard marking of ISO or SANS 12042-N. Here, N indicates a single-digit number that is used for classifying different safety equipment.

  • SANS 12402-1: Personal Flotation Devices – Part 1: Lifejackets for seagoing ship (level 150) Safety requirements.
  • SANS 12402-2: Personal Flotation Devices -Part 2: Lifejackets for extreme offshore conditions (Level 275) Safety requirements.
  • SANS 12402-3: Personal Flotation Devices -Part 3: Lifejackets for offshore conditions (level 150) – Safety requirements.
  • SANS 12402-4: Personal Flotation Devices -Part 4: Lifejackets for inland/close to shore conditions (Level 100) – Safety requirements.
  • SANS 12402-5: Personal Flotation Devices-Part 5: Buoyancy aids (level 50) – Safety requirements.
  • SANS 12402-6: Personal Flotation Devices – Part 6: Special purpose Lifejackets and buoyancy aids – Safety requirements and additional test methods.
  • SANS 12402-7: Personal Flotation Devices -Part 7: Materials and components Safety requirements and test methods.
  • SANS 12402-8: Personal Flotation Devices -Part 8: Accessories-Safety requirements and test methods.

(Source: SAMSA Marine Notice No. 21 of 2019)

We highly recommend you give this document a thorough read.

4. General Rules of Safety near other vessels

Following general rules of safety in crowded waters will significantly reduce the risk of collision and damage to property. As a powerboat operator, you should know these basic rules near other vessels.

  • If you are approaching a boat head-on, then always pass the boat by going to the starboard (right) side.
  • If you are overtaking a boat going in the same direction, try overtaking from the port (left) side by default.
  • Make sure you make headway for working boats.
  • If you are being overtaken, maintain course and speed.
  • Do not go over the speed limit. Else you may endanger other vessels, humans in the water, and yourself.

Driving responsibly, being courteous to others, and following the rules is the key to staying safe and having a fun powerboating experience. Vaaldam has a really great article about how you could practice safety with lights and horns on the seas.

5. Dealing with Emergencies

Emergencies can occur anywhere, and boats are no exception. This is why, as an operator, you should understand how VHF radios work.

Apart from that, it is important for you to learn the lights and horn signals. For example, in case of emergency, sound 5 short blasts from your hooters. It is a universal signal for ‘danger’ or ‘signalling for help’ or ‘not understanding the approaching vessel’s intentions’.

6. Assign a Lookout

If you have a passenger on your boat, make sure to ask them for help with the lookout. A lookout will often warn you about other vessels, humans, and other natural formations like a shoal or floating debris. Keeping a lookout is important in order to achieve maximum safety.

They will also inform you in case of accidents such as man overboard. Lookouts are essential. If you are a beginner, we highly recommend you have a lookout on your vessel.

7. Tow Sporting

A lot of locals and foreigners in South Africa enjoy tow sporting such as water gliding, wake-boarding or water skiing. Safety precautions must be taken during such activities.

Making sure all the equipment is in top-notch condition will help you stay safe on the waters. Not to mention, during such activities, life jackets must be worn all the time. Also, during such sports, a safe distance of 30 metres or more must be maintained in order to avoid collisions, accidents with propellers, carbon monoxide poisoning and so on.

And lastly, the person enjoying watersport activities must always be watched by a lookout on the boat.


Boating safety is an extensive topic that can go on and on if you talk about it. It is paramount to practice safety as it will keep you and others on the sea safe. These are the seven essential safety precautions we think every powerboater in South Africa should take.

If you are looking for an adventure on the seas, you will require a skipper’s license. Along with it, we highly recommend getting a VFH radio operator as well. If you are looking for guidance or a course on either of these, feel free to contact Sail and Power SA for more information.