Watercraft Safety on Lake Burley Griffin

It is important to be clearly visible while on the water. Suggested precautions are to:

  • Dress brightly
  • Keep a proper lookout
  • Operate watercraft during daylight hours or adhere to the night lighting requirements for small vessels
  • Stay close to the shore line
  • Keep to the starboard (right-hand) side of your course
  • Adhere to lighting requirements during mornings of thick fog

Conduct a safety check before heading out.

  • Check the latest weather, and plan your trip accordingly
  • Check your equipment is in working order
  • Advise friends or family of your time of departure, return and proposed route
  • Carry a mobile phone in a waterproof pouch
  • Carry sufficient drinking water and sun protection
  • Dress appropriately for the conditions
  • Use a paddle or leg leash in windy conditions where applicable
  • Carry a noise maker of some kind (to attract attention) attached to the watercraft so it is not lost if the craft capsizes
  • Do not operate any watercraft when under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Cold water can be lethal.

The water temperature of Lake Burley Griffin can often be extremely cold. Cold water is dangerous and exposed persons can develop hyperthermia quickly. The effects of cold water mean that even healthy, good swimmers can drown after a short period of time in the water. The risk of hypothermia can be exacerbated by wind chill, even in the warmer months of the year. Ways to avoid hyperthermia include:

  • Be aware of the weather conditions and forecasts including wind speed and direction, temperatures and potential storms
  • Wear a well fitted life jacket
  • Wear a wetsuit during the colder months
  • Stay with your craft if you capsize to increase your chance of rescue.

Lake Burley Griffin is a wonderful asset for all to enjoy in the National Capital.

With the increasing number of watercraft users, at times the Lake can be busy, with small watercraft and commercial vessels sharing the space.

An understanding of the following safety recommendations (applicable to all watercraft) will help everyone to enjoy the lake in safety.


It is strongly recommended that you wear an approved lifejacket at all times when enjoying Lake Burley Griffin.

Navigation lights/Visibility

Between sunset and sunrise a torch is a minimum requirement for small craft, but it is strongly recommended that the craft has a white light visible in every direction.

When fog, glare, smoke or darkness restrict your visibility adjust your speed accordingly.

Life Buoys

Life buoy boxes are located in swimming areas, jetties and high-use areas. Watercraft operators are asked to take care not to damage these boxes.

Lake Conditions

  • The Lake may look calm, but conditions can change quickly. Strong winds can create choppy conditions making it dangerous for watercraft.
  • Be on the lookout for submerged trees and other snags, especially after periods of heavy rain. These objects can move and/or change position.
  • Sudden immersion in cold water is potentially dangerous. The effects of cold water mean that even healthy, good swimmers can drown after a short period of time in the water. The risk of hypothermia can be exacerbated by wind chill, even in the warmer months of the year. Wearing of lifejackets, appropriate clothing and going out with a “buddy” is strongly recommended.
  • ACT Health advises that swimming should be avoided for several days after heavy rainfall as bacteria levels may be elevated.

Stay safe on the Lake.

Keep safe, stay right

  • Keep to the right hand side of your course

Keep a proper lookout

  • Use your eyes and ears - keep a good lookout
  • Take care when entering or crossing busy areas

Keep clear of larger vessels

  • Cross behind, not in front
  • Remember wash can capsize small craft

Wear a lifejacket

  • It is strongly recommended that you
  • wear an approved lifejacket at all times

Check Lake Status

Take great care to avoid collisions

  • Show lights at night and in fog

Drowning Deaths in Inland Waterways

Many drowning deaths which occur in Inland waterways (rivers, lakes, creeks, streams dams, etc) are preventable. In 2013/2014 there were 105 drowning deaths in Australian inland waterways. Lake Burley Griffin is an inland waterway and people often experience difficulties due to the changing conditions, cold water temperatures and gusty winds. Even strong swimmers and competent craft users succumb to the effects of the elements.

Remember to exercise caution and watercraft safety when recreating on Lake Burley Griffin.

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