Boating & events

Port Phillip and Western Port

Port Phillip and Western Port are popular places for boating, fishing, yachting and other aquatic pastimes – but they are also gateways for commercial shipping. This means big ships such as container ships, car carriers, tankers, bulk carriers and cruise ships are using the bays 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, going to and from the ports of Melbourne, Geelong and Hastings.

Recreational vessel operators need to be aware of the conditions within port waters detailed within the Harbour Master Directions for each port and in Notices to Mariners.


Ports Victoria manages navigational safety in the port waters of Melbourne, Geelong and Hastings. Interactions between recreational and commercial vessels is a particular safety focus.

As a recreational boater, you, and the vessel you operate, must comply with the relevant safety laws. Safe Transport Victoria regulates recreational vessels in Victoria.

Below is important information to help you stay safe while out on the water.

Big ships have right of way in the channels.

Keep well clear of a ship’s path and make sure you can see and be seen at all times.

  • Ships can’t stop quickly or manoeuvre easily like small boats.
  • A ship’s speed may be faster than it seems and ship engines are quiet.
  • Small boats are hard to see from a ship’s bridge – just because you can see the ship, don’t assume the ship can see you.
  • Many small vessels do not show up on radar.
  • If an approaching ship blows it whistle, it means ‘Get out of the way’.

There is a Transit Only Zone in the north of Port Phillip Bay where vessels must not anchor or drift. Penalties apply.

For detailed information, see the Transit Only Zone page.

Harbour Master’s Directions & Port Information Guide


  • Always show appropriate lights at night.
  • Keep a lookout for big ships, they can’t always be heard over engine noise, wind or waves.
  • Cross channels only when safe to do so.
  • Be prepared for large waves after a ship passes.


  • Don’t anchor or moor in shipping channels. It is illegal.
  • Don’t tether to navigation aids such as buoys and channel markers.