Field research stranded by new boat rules?

Changes to commercial boating rules could make using a tinnie for research purposes that much harder

Scientists have warned that new maritime laws governing the operation of commercial vessels could have the unintended consequence of making science research using small boats more difficult. 

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) is poised to assume national responsibility for commercial vessel safety in Australian waters from the beginning of 2013. 

While the modernisation of standards for commercial boating under a national regulator has been widely welcomed, there are growing concerns that the changes could leave scientists that operate small vessels inland, stranded. 

  • Have you been consulted about these changes? Post a comment below. 

Under the new arrangements, the minimum certification to operate small vessels for inland waters will be changed from a general boat licence to a limited coxswain. 

Staff Association Section Councillor and Experimental Scientist from CSIRO Land and Water (CLW), Janet Anstee, said that the new category of limited coxswain requires 200 hours of sea service. 

“Nobody’s against changes to improve safety but having to log 200 hours before you can take out the tinnie in protected waters is excessive.” 

Ms Anstee said that researchers in CLW have told her that “these new regulations fail to distinguish between working 12 miles off shore and working on a local coastal creek or inland river ten metres wide,” she said. 

  • Will these changes affect you? Share your experience below.

The Australian Marine Sciences Association (AMSciA) – the country’s largest professional association of marine scientists – also weighed in on the small boats issue.  

In a submission to AMSA, the marine scientists described the coxswain competency requirement in the context of small boat operations as “overly arduous, lacking relevance and archaic.”

“We strongly advocate for a sensible approach to training pathways and sea time provisions which are scaled to the risks involved and standard experiences for our members,” AMSciA said. 

Ms Anstee said that the level of planning within CSIRO ahead of the changes appeared uneven. 

“There’s a range of awareness about the changes that varies across the organisation according to location and division. 

“Some divisions are already working with staff to address compliance issues with the new rules. Others appear utterly unprepared for change. 

“Queensland will be forced to make these changes ahead of the other states and territories, so it will be different there too, she said.

“The impact on research – especially long term monitoring programs – could be profound,” Ms Anstee said.

“Enforcement of the new regulations could increase research costs dramatically should CSIRO decide to pursue external hiring of vessels and crew, for example.” 

Ms Anstee said it was important that staff who were already or likely to be affected by the changes contact the Staff Association and share their experience and concerns.

“The Staff Association plans to take up the issue but we need the help of members by making comments and suggestions.

“This will help us make the case to the Chief Executive and the Chief Scientist to lobby AMSA for a practical solution. 

“We’ll also be asking questions about the consultation process across the whole organisation at the next meeting of CSIRO Consultative Council in December.” 

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10 thoughts on “Field research stranded by new boat rules?

  1. Brad says: The proposed AMSA rule changes regarding boating will stop research in inland waters dead in its tracks. The requirement of 200 hours logged experience will never be achieved by scientists who have operated boats for decades in inland waters without incident. An intensive field project might require 5 week-long field experiments. Assume 8 hours boat use per day and you get 200 hours per year of total boat driving time. Just enough to qualify one person for a limited coxswain’s ticket.

    More generally, we don’t spend this much time in boats so it will take longer for an individual to qualify. We then become dependent on a single person to drive the boat for every field trip. This will never be practical given sickness, holidays and the highly variable timing of field research. We must have several skippers to draw from and there is not enough field work around to provide enough hours of experience.

    Another problem is that we work from small boats, = 50% to accommodate an additional staff member.

    Don’t forget, we work on water almost exclusively in calm conditions without tides, breaking waves, or strong currents to contend with.

    Holding a local inland water boat license issued by the relevant state authorities (the way it has always been done before) is sufficient to ensure safe boating and familiarity with navigation rules. Requiring a limited coxswains ticket just adds an absurd level of red tape to the execution of freshwater field research.

  2. Frederieke writes: Thank you for your article highlighting the issues w/ new rules for using small boats for research.

    I’m leading a small group up at CSIRO Atherton, and we do have a small boat that we are using for research in local lakes, rivers and estuaries. The people in charge of the boat have extensive experience w/ using small boats (i.e. some over 20 yrs), including towing, launching, driving, and working from research boats in both fresh and marine waters (e.g. Great Barrier Reef). A few of us also have our own boat (tinny, sailboat) with extensive experience in using them.

    Whilst we all have our recreational boat licenses, none of us have a restricted Coxswain. I’m all for having safe working environments, but believe it is complete overkill ot have a certificate like that for boat use in protected waters. It is similar to having a truck license for driving a passenger car – completely unnecessary.

    Aside from being complete overkill, it has been extremely difficult to get consistent messages about what training is actually required, both internally and externally, for over a year now. We are trying to work through this w/ our HSE representative, but none of us have yet completed the restricted Coxswain course until we get confirmation as to what course we need to do.

    I have also asked my team to provide feedback, as they have more directly been involved in setting up our boat and trying to figure out what training we need to do.

  3. Russ writes: I am based in CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research and have had serious concerns about this one size fits all type of regulation for some time. I have known this change in boating regulation was on its way but felt powerless to stem yet another knee jerk over-regulation. We have had a chance to comment on this and I believe this has happened at an organisation level. The outcome has been far from satisfactory. Most of the people who I work with have a vast amount of experience in small boats under a range of difficult and remote conditions. Some of them have their coxswains qualification and some don’t. The process of obtaining this qualification is both costly and time consuming, and we are in short supply of each of these commodities. I have lost track of the times that I have tried to plan field work and been stymied by the lack of available, qualified team members. In an environment where staff numbers are shrinking it is increasingly difficult to justify, let alone find, a staff member specifically allocated to a project just to drive a boat. Much of the qualification is almost totally irrelevant to our work as it is focused on large deisel powered vessels either trawlers of tourist transport vessels (e.g. large cats). The weeks of training relating to operating diesel engines at sea is a total waste of time even for our staff, let alone those from CLW etc.

    The situation reminds me of when diving regulations changed, some time ago now, and we ended up with quite excessive levels of training being required. At one point scientific divers were being required to have the same training as deep sea construction divers. The committee considering the need for this was filled with people who were quite badly compromised in terms of conflict of interest, being owners of commercial diving training companies. It has been an ongoing process over almost two decades to try to bring this back to a level which reflects the needs of scientific diving. I fear a similar protracted scenario with boat driving. Organisational leadership left us hanging out to dry because it was easier to capitulate than to argue our practices are already safe enough.

    In many areas of our work we are being required to obtain qualifications and undertake training which is far in excess of requirements. Our work is stressful enough because we are constantly being required to do more work with fewer resources. These sorts of regulations are making the difficult impossible. And it is getting worse.

    To illustrate, many of my team members would now be required to have the following qualifications :

    Commercial Coxswains
    Commercial Diver – also comes with requirement for regular training course in advanced first aid and advanced resuscitation techniques)
    LR truck licence (i.e. commercial, now an in-house requirement for some vehicles actually in the C category)

    Registered Vet (ethics committees across the country now requiring for even minor surgical procedures on any animal e.g. tag and release) (this will actually shut down most affected projects)

    Oh yes, probably need a BSc and PhD as well, nearly forgot what we were here for!

  4. Brendan says: I have about 20 years experience in freshwater fish ecology in Australia, largely based on small boat work. I think there are two clear points.

    First, is that a coxswains license seems excessive for the kind of work that we do in inland waters.

    Second, that some clear articulation of the requirements would be great so that we can get on with obtaining the appropriate certification.

    Much of my work spans multiple states and there is an obvious need for a standard qualifications across these jurisdictions. There has been some confusion regarding the applicability of coxswain and restricted coxswain courses from different training organisations across states.

  5. Something similar happened with scuba and hookah diving regulations a few years ago: there was a push that everyone neeeded a commercial diving certification. Universities, AIMS and CSIRO pushed back and developed their own code – that was much more appropriate for the type of research diving required. We all ned to push back against these to onerous requiremtns-but probably need to come up with an acceptable alternative for samll boating for research purposes

  6. Andrew writes: We are and have been embroiled in this process for some time now, including having had our vessels grounded for a period until we got them compliant with AMSA guidelines. I am in the process of completing the training requirements to gain my restricted coxswain and have invested significant time (personal and work) and had significant training funds invested in me towards achieving this goal. I would appreciate being kept up to date with progress and any national change that we are going to see both from an AMSA point of view and or from actions or directions CSIRO take or make.

  7. I was asked by a colleague to submit this part of the AMSA (Australian Marine Science Association not to be confused with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority!)-submission which was written for a significant part by Tim Lynch of CMAR:
    Area of concern:
    That the minimum certification for a master operating low risk 2C, D, E vessels <7.5m purchased after 2013 will changed from a general boat licence to a coxswain (Grade 1,2 or 3, or limited coxswain or coxswain).
    The reasons for our concern regarding the above change are twofold:
    Firstly, we are of the strong view that the coxswain units of competency offered within the maritime training package are, in the context of small boat operations, overly arduous, lack relevance and are archaic:
     Overly arduous; as they require a significant commitment of time and money for courses to complete. Training that is provided that while of benefit for operations on larger sea going vessels, are not required for low risk sheltered water and coastal small boat operations . Overly arduous training requirements will also impact on international collaborations due to the time required to complete training.
     Lack of relevance; in that much of what is learnt during the coxswain course is not relevant to our members operations in that many of the skills and knowledge required for the safe operation of small boats such as trailer handing skills, operation of petrol outboard engines and colour sounder plotters, are not included in the course.
     Archaic; training appears to be heavily focused on displacement vessels with simple diesel engine vessels and chart navigation. These types of vessels and skills are not standard practise for our members. Rather they result in the need for our members to be provided with additional training to what is required under the National Law.

    The following is a summary of what we believe is best practice for certification for small boat operations:

     General Boat Operators licence – rules of the sea
     Marine Radio Operators Certificate of Proficiency
     Current First aid certificate
     If required – safe operation of deck machinery
     Undertake an induction and supervised training depending on their level of experience and logged sea time, and how well that experience relates to the type of research or education activity and location of the activity.
     Pass a practical assessment that meets the performance criteria within the following units:
    o AURT337119A Drive and manoeuvre trailers
    o MEM50008B Carry out trip preparation and planning
    o MEM50009B Safely operate a mechanically powered recreational boat
    o MEM50010B Respond to boating emergencies and incidents or elements of shipboard safety

    The second area of concern is the difficulty most researchers and research students will have in achieving and maintaining the sea time requirements to achieve and maintain a coxswain certification.

    Most of our member’s boat operations are from trailer vessels, while sea time previsions are focused onto multi-day voyages. Sea time should be scoped as 1 day for all operations of greater than 2 hours on the water, as preparation, towing and clean up of vessels adds considerable time to each deployment of the vessel.

    Developing adequate sea time for our members often begins with small trailer borne vessels. Progression to larger vessels does occur but this usually is within the scope of trailer boats. A formal recognition of this reality should occur and we feel that with the Coxswain grading system (1, 2, 3) if suitable modified as discussed above will provide an opportunity to develop a smooth pathway for skill development and certification.

  8. Dean says: I have been the site Small Boat Officer in Atherton for over 18 months now. During this time our group of boaters have tried valiantly to align ourselves with all CSIRO, State and AMSA rules and regulations with successes in most areas. However one thing that is a thorn in our side is the Coxswains Certificate.

    Not only is it an overkill for our application of estuaries, rivers and creeks with a huge commitment of time and money to complete such courses, but there is the additional concern of once completing such a course it will be soon superseded and made irrelevant by the National System Ticket to be approved sometime in 2013. So it would seem the best course of action would be to withhold any idea of completing any course until the National System Ticket standards have been agreed upon by the Transport Ministers. The catch is that there is an expectation that boating staff are to have certification of competency for a Restricted Coxswains by October 2013.

    Is it possible to get more clarification on the dates that boating staff are expected to complete Coxswains certification or can there be a relaxation on this rule until the National Standards have been put into place?

  9. The changes in the Marine Safety National Law Bills, bring all Australian Commercial Maritime activity under the one set of rules. I think people have been blindsided by these Bills, and are overlooking the point that CSIRO is a Commonwealth Agency, and as such operates under Commonwealth legislation, including the 1912 Commonwealth Navigation Act, and has a responsibility under the that Act to ensure that all of the masters of all of its boats are duly licensed. The salient point is that this Act does not recognize recreational license, only coxswains and masters.

    Since 1912, boat operators have been required under the Act to have a coxswains (or masters) to drive a CSIRO boat. This was overlooked by many small boating officers, and indeed by the local state maritime safety agencies. Everyone though we only had to comply with state legislation, forgetting that we are a Commonwealth agency.

    So now everyone has realized that we need coxswains (or masters)… We are in a box, and there is only one way out. That is to either train staff or hire qualified boat drivers – like we do for cars, trucks, buses and forklifts etc.

    The issue with training is that a lot of groups have competent boat handlers, who know what they are doing but cannot demonstrate the required sea time experience for an open coxswains. A lot of people have also commented that the coxswains is inappropriate because it is focused on bigger vessels (up to 12m) with inboard diesels operating offshore, and the all their work is small (4-6m) boats with outboards in confined waters.

    I have sympathy for this argument, but I think people forget that there is a thing called a restricted coxswains, where the license is granted subject to limitations. The restrictions can be in many forms, limiting operations to a class of vessel and area of operations. This is often done when the candidate cannot demonstrate the experience required for and does not need the open coxswains…

    CSIRO could develop Specific Operating Instruction (SOI) for a particular boating operations and present the SOI to AMSA along with an application for a restricted coxswains and a relaxation of sea time requirements. For example it should be possible to get a restricted coxswains limited to driving a 6m CSIRO boat with outboards on Lake George – and the requirements for that coxswains would be minimal.

  10. OH how I wish I had found this site prevesly.As we may have been able to help one another. Hi my name is shane wisby I am a fith generation fisherman and I have been driven out of the fishing industery by this crap for after holding a limited coxswain for 30 years and operating all this time M.a.s.t. decided that my ticket that was isued for life was no longer any good and that I had to go back to school to learn to be safe at my job.
    Several of us put up a fight against this requesting that we be grandfatherd in using prier histery but after two years of this I had to walk away. As this was just a money grab by goverment department. As i was employing a deckhand this also cost his job. I would not recomend that any of my four sons enter into this over buracratic industery so end of an era i gues.Thay have to justerfy there jobs I suppose.


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