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Old 15-02-2009, 18:45   #1
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Question Liveaboard - Sydney, Australia

Hi Guys,

I am looking at living aboard in Sydney/Botany Bay/Pittwater. I know that it is strictly speaking not legal but I also hear that there are people doing it with no problems. I have tried searching but the information I find seems quite old.

Does anyone have any recent information as to locations where liveaboards are tolerated if not welcomed in the Sydney area?

Thanks in advance,

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Old 15-02-2009, 20:29   #2
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I'd be very interested in the answers as well. Thanks for starting this thread!!

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Old 15-02-2009, 22:38   #3
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We met a couple a while ago who were living aboard in Sydney Harbour and had done so for a few years.

They mostly used a commercial mooring from one of the marinas and kept it low key and friendly.

Legally speaking you can stay three days in any one spot, but unless it is really popular or the landlubber neighbours complain Waterways do not seem too vigilant.
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Old 15-02-2009, 23:00   #4
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A friend of mine cruised for a few months on a converted 18'skiff around Sydney Harbour. This was in the 70's so I don't know its present relevance
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Old 16-02-2009, 01:08   #5
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We got sussed out by Waterways within a few days of dropping the pick in Blackwattle bay. You need to keep a very very low profile!!!!!!!!

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Old 16-02-2009, 01:38   #6
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I spent several years living aboard on a commercial mooring in Lavender Bay during the mid 1990's. There where liveaboards on about 5 yachts in the bay. Only 1 boat had problems with the authorities & this was more of a personality clash with the local boating officer. During these years a national census was conducted & I was told by a boating officer that they had distributed over 2000 forms to people living on boats in the harbour & Pittwater.
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Old 16-02-2009, 07:40   #7
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I lived in Lavendar Bay in the 80's, it was only a problem if somebody complained, so we didn't hang out washing on the lifelines and that sort of thing. We knew the local water police, but it wasn't their department, so they didn't care.
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Old 16-02-2009, 07:56   #8
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Your success in being a "sneak-aboard" will depend highly on your visible profile as well as your location.

We've lived aboard as transient cruisers in both Sydney Harbour and in the Pittwater for many seasons, but this is not the same as basically being a "normal" person who lives on a boat.
Blackwattle Bay is one of the hardest places to get by in because it is within view of the WaterGestapo's home base, and they do keep a good watch over it. Not a cruiser-friendly place anymore, and certainly not a good live-aboard venue.

We have noted a number of long-term liveaboards amongst the mooring fields in the Bayview/Churchd point/McCarrs Creek area. They seem to be tolerated, but all do a good job of not being very visible, and may have long-term connections that ease their way... who knows.

If it were me, I'd spend some time in my dinghy cruising through prospective areas and talking to any folks who look like liveaboards.

It is more difficult to manage in a marina, but not impossible... just requires a reasonable manager and a REALLY low profile.

Good luck with it

Jim and Ann s/v Insatiable II lying Gladstone Qld Oz
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Old 09-03-2009, 18:07   #9
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Some Sydney liveaboard experience

Hello all.

About living aboard in NSW….

Until I began a cruise to the Whitsundays and beyond I was living aboard in and around the areas mentioned for four years so I hope the following might be useful.

The relevant legislation is simply draconian. It is illegal to live aboard any vessel in NSW (I last checked April 2008) as it is an offence to spend more than 21 nights per year aboard. The regulations have been slowly tightened since about the 1970’s when a fear developed that Sydney was at risk of being ‘Hong Konged” by derelict and disreputable yachties. (We’re bad …. Apparently we spoil the view, pollute outrageously, steal everything not locked down and bring an otherwise undesirable ‘element’ to the locales we inhabit.)

The two official loopholes available are either
1/ obtaining written permission from the relevant authority to do so. (I know of nobody who has done so, if there is anyone, please let me know!)
2/ being ‘in transit’ as you undertake an extended cruise.

Unofficially, it is extremely difficult for the relevant authority (NSW Maritime aka NSW Waterways Authority) to make a successful prosecution stick unless the yachty concerned admits to living aboard. Because of this, most authorities will be slow to prosecute, but their powers extend to the ability to confiscate a vessel if it remains in an area after directions to move on.

Because it is so difficult to prosecute someone for living aboard, numerous legislative traps have been created to place the live-aboard yachty at automatic default of breaking some rule. These include:
Every boat must be registered.
Every registered (non trailerable) boat must be registered to a mooring/marina.
Every registered yacht/mooring requires a street mailing address not a post office box.
Every boat with a toilet is required to have onboard storage for sewage and either pump out at an approved location or discharge more than two nautical miles out to sea.

Reflecting this, in Sydney Harbour, the official question cascade will be something like this:-
-how long are you staying?
-where is your boat kept/moored?
-do you have a toilet onboard?
-do you have sewage tanks?
-is your toilet plumbed to the tanks?
-are your valves set to pump to the tanks and not overboard?
-where do you empty your tanks?
-do you have current registration?
-what safety equipment do you carry?

To avoid prosecution,
-never admit to being a live aboard.
-You just visit the yacht regularly.
-You are in transit on an extended cruise.
- Fulfil all legal requirements regarding vessel registration, pollution, safety etc and if you have a mooring find a friend or family member who will allow you to register to their address. (Once registered, you can visit a Waterways Office in person when your rego is due and pay it over the counter as long as you are ‘in transit’.

To avoid harassment:
-always be pleasant and never defensive (let alone offensive) with Maritime Officers. A friendly wave and welcoming smile goes a long way to defusing tensions.
-have a ready spiel
-keep your vessel fully compliant with local safety and pollution regulations.
-keep your yacht as tidy as those that are used only for weekends.
-avoid being caught working on your boat by choosing times/places where surveillance is unlikely. I once had a waterways official gleefully relate his successful prosecution of a yacht that had allowed sanded paint to fall into the water. The pollutions regulations in NSW are particularly harsh (unless it is a government utility doing the polluting:- in their logic, a million tonnes of sewage from a leaking government pipe will be effortlessly absorbed by the environment while a single toilet flush from a yacht is cause for prosecution.)
-if choosing a mooring, find somewhere that has no waterfront houses directly facing you, choose an outer mooring so that you are out of sight, keep your yacht as tidy as those that are used only on weekends and avoid confrontations/admissions to local land owners. (This can be more difficult if you have a car.)
-do not underestimate the potential vindictiveness of locals. I once had a visit from the water police when the locals saw me as a threat to their yachts and decided (without ever approaching me) that I was the cause of thefts from their vessels. (Do I need to say that the thought of theft is abhorrent to me?) On another occasion a complaint was rung in that I had launched a series of distress flares on a dark and stormy night (I was asleep at the time and awoke to loudhailer, spotlights and inquisition).
-if at anchor, choose out of the way locations and move regularly not just from bay to bay, but from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (this latter keeps the ‘in transit’ story safe. With practice, you can find a number of ‘back-space’ areas that are rarely or lackadaisically patrolled. Oddly enough, you can be almost invisible by choosing the most popular areas for weekend sailors and moving between these regularly.

And keep smiling! Let’s face it, we have floating homes with beautiful waterfrontage and the ability to move away from irritable or irritating people.
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Old 09-03-2009, 20:30   #10
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I would love to get a link a reference so I can look at the actual legislation. Everyone "knows" that it is not legal but I can't find a reference to it on any of the governments or agencies web pages.

Alternatively, I have heard from one source who states that the legislation as written means that it actually is legal to live aboard provided that you are in a berth (not on the hook or on a mooring) in a marina that has pump out facilities (such as Roselle)and your vessel has a holding tank. Of course, as I have still not seen the legislation, I don't know if this is truly the case.

I have learned that there is no shortage of people who have or are done it and there is more than one Marina in Sydney that will tell anyone inquiring that they do allow liveaboards but do not advertise it. It certainly appears that as long as you don't make waves, you may be OK.

I don't want to name names so if anyone is after specifics about this, shoot me a PM.

Cheers -
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Old 09-03-2009, 22:35   #11
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Legislation re live aboard in NSW

Finding specific legislation is difficult as the NSW situation is a case of legislation by incremental regulation. That is to say, the desired outcome (ie no live aboards) was made clear to the department back in the 70's 80's and a range of regulations were progressively introduced. My own awareness has developed from dealing with NSW Maritime in regards to registering moorings, boats and subsequent discussions with them of the information packs that came with these and included specific reference to what was and what is not accepted.

The actual regulations exist across a range of areas from pollution control to harbour management schemes to mooring management plans. An example of the latter can be found in rules and regulations regarding moorings ( in which living aboard any mooring registered with NSW Maritime is specifically prohibited. When I queried this directly with NSW Maritime, I was informed that this meant it was illegal to spend more than three consecutive nights on board or more than 21 nights in a given year.

The power of the regulations comes from the fact that because they are spread across a number of different areas, it is extremely difficult to effectively challenge the no live aboard regime in NSW. In effect, NSW Maritime has the power to nibble away at people who transgress one bite at a time until they just give up and go away.

To get the full gist of these and their impacts, you would need to search through and read all of the various regulations pertaining to these quite disparate areas. To fight the outcome (ie no legal live aboards) would require either that each single area would need to be challenged or that a top down change of heart would need to be implemented.

Not easy to manage.....

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Old 09-03-2009, 23:06   #12
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No doubt, I've been looking. While it is clear there is regulation regarding living on a mooring or at anchor, I have not found anything that shows that living in a slip at a location that has pump out facilities is banned. Everybody "knows" that it is illegal though.

In all my dealings with NSW government and agencies I have learned that often they are the least likely to know what the extent of regulations are. As long as we are at a slip in a marina with pump out and our head goes to the holding tank, I think we are pretty safe. While there seems to be some petty people at waterways, I have too much time on my hands as well.

I don't see that each little regulation needs to be challenged; I have no need to live at a mooring or discharge my waste in the harbor. Keeping my nose clean as far as the regulations go means waterways would have to find a regulation that specifically bans living aboard.

If worse comes to worse, I'll just claim I'm indigenous and they won't dare prosecute

Can't say I'm worried about it, can always just sail away.

Cheers -
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Old 23-01-2010, 15:35   #13
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We have a family live on a Houseboat in the middle of the bay where we have our mooring in Botany Bay. The NSW Maritime have tried to move on the live aboards a few times in the past but they all gang up and say "all for one , one for all".

As the family have a disabled son on board I don't think the NSW Maritime want to be seen in the press as evicting handicapped people from their only home. There are 5 live aboard vessels in the area.

Wooloware Bay has a very high ratio of LA's, must be 1/3 of the vessels there and thay are all big boats as all the boats that can not make it under Captain Cook bridge have to moor there.

An interesting observation about liveaboards. Most are single, mid to older males with a dog (usually a Jack Russel).
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Old 27-04-2010, 09:38   #14
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Interesting thread! We arrived in Sydney in mid December 2009. Anchored for a month with no issues. (Rozelle/Blackwattle, Manly, Rose Bay, Rushcutters Bay, Balls HeadBay) As we "knew" the rules (have to say I think I've learned a few new aspects of the rules here in THIS forum!) we changed anchorages every few days. The way the summer wind shifted, most of the time we would just run from Northerly protected anchorage to Southerly protected

The only time NSW Maritime had an issue was in Blackwattle Bay... but not for length of time there, we had swung out of the allowed area and were "in the way of the rowing teams". The lady was a tad bit of a breaker, but I tucked in closer right away and never heard from her again. We were close to the bridge anchoring site, East side if your looking it up, near where the rowing boats and dragon boats launched, so maybe one of those people complained? But I'd guess it was one of the coaches for the college rowing teams that zoomed around in a tinnie shouting at the rowers via a megaphone!

In that time one yacht was anchored in Blackwattle bay, tuck up shallow on the Western side, and he did not move his yacht for over two months. Interesting, eh? (Note: he did say he worked for immigration in an nearby Asian country, maybe that was the story he spun when questioned by NSW Maritime)

In our travel across the Pacific we rarely saw places with as few "cruiser" facilities as Sydney Harbor. It's a shame, to be honest.

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Old 02-08-2010, 22:55   #15
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First time poster so be kind!

Having just spent a recent weekend on a Cat on Lake Macquarie NSW (awesome but had to decline a trip up to the Whitsundays due to work) I am playing around the idea of purchasing my own cruiser for a live-aboard.

To get it out of the way, it will not be a yacht or a cat, at its heart will be either one or two shaft driven diesels. I can hear you groaning and cursing from here

My plan, albeit rough, is to purchase said cruiser, in the range of 32-36', sometime in early Feb next year, and have it berthed at a marina in the hawkesbury, brooklyn to be presise. From what I have read here, and other places, it is frowned upon. BUT, as we all know people do it. I assume that it would just be a case of having a chat to the marina owner and see how you go.

I would like if possible any advice that may be out there as to what to expect. Im a 29yo male, single, and work would be about an hour drive each way from the marina. I work full time, so plan on living aboard at night, weekends go hit the water, and during annual leave go where I please.

Any and all advice is appreciated.


Paul C.

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