A NSW Government website

Fish safe off the rocks!

Rock fishing is great fun but it can be risky. Reduce the risks by always fishing safely and responsibly.


Combined with other key safety measures, it is best to wear a lifejacket whenever you are rock fishing.

It is compulsory by law for all fishers (including children and anyone helping children or others to rock fish) to wear a lifejacket when rock fishing anywhere in the Randwick City Council local government area (LGA), the Northern Beaches Council LGA, the Richmond Valley Council LGA, the Ballina Shire Council LGA, the Central Coast Council LGA, the Lake Macquarie City Council LGA, the Sutherland Shire Council LGA and the Port Stephens Council LGA..

A number of other LGAs along the NSW coast are expected to soon be included in rock fishing safety laws involving mandatory lifejackets.. Ensure you are aware of these laws before you go rock fishing.

Find out more about the lifejacket law and declared areas.

Image of two fisher assessing the rock fishing conditions

Safety Tips

Follow these safety tips at all times when rock fishing or when fishing in hazardous areas:

  • Always wear an AS4758 approved lifejacket: Lifejackets suitable for rock fishing are widely available in a range of modern styles, designs and budgets. Select and use the lifejacket best suited to your requirements. Remember, a lifejacket is useless unless you wear it! Mandatory lifejacket laws apply in declared NSW rock fishing locations. Fines apply if you fail to wear a lifejacket in these areas. See
  • Always wear appropriate footwear: Non-slip footwear, such as spiked boots, cleats and thick soled sandshoes/boots, is vital for safe rock fishing. Do not attempt rock fishing unless you have suitable footwear. Remember that different locations may require specific footwear.
  • Wear light clothing: Light clothing such as shorts and a spray jacket will let you swim more easily if you are washed in. Jumpers and long pants may be heavy and difficult to take off.
  • Stay weather alert: Accurate weather information is readily available. Make sure you check conditions before you go out and keep updated to any changes throughout the day. Changing tide, wind and swell conditions can quickly make rock fishing unsafe.
  • Don’t jump in if someone is washed in: In case of emergency, call 000 or get help. If there’s an Angel Ring, life buoy or other flotation device readily available, throw it out to provide additional buoyancy until rescue comes.
  • Never fish alone: The ocean rocks are no place for solo fishing trips. Always fish the rocks with mates or go to an area where others are already fishing.
  • Plan an escape route in case you are washed in: Before you start fishing, evaluate your chosen location to find if there are any “escape routes” available. This could involve an area which you could safely and easily swim to if you end up in the water or perhaps a higher ledge or platform you can quickly access should a wave inundate your fishing position.
  • Never turn your back on the ocean: When rock fishing, always keep an eye out for changing conditions, swells and breaking waves. It’s especially important to ensure you remain fully aware of your surroundings when your attention is otherwise taken up by fighting a fish, re-rigging or baiting up.
  • Carefully assess the conditions: Before you start fishing, spend at least 20 minutes at a vantage point making sure your fishing spot is safe to fish. A location can appear flat calm only to be inundated by a mass of white water as a swell comes through seemingly out of nowhere. A 20-minute observation of ocean conditions will allow you to make an informed decision on whether the spot is safe to fish or not.

Basic fishing safety tips

  • Care for your own safety and never take undue risks when fishing: even when fighting fish or trying to retrieve tackle. Never enter the water to retrieve lost tackle or snagged fish. If the location looks dangerous, don't fish there.
  • Wear a life jacket when boat fishing or when fishing in hazardous locations such as rock platforms or those located near areas of fast moving water. It may also be appropriate to wear non-slip shoes.
  • If someone falls into the water: do not jump in after them instead look for an angel ring, life buoy or something that floats and throw it to the person in the water. Alert emergency services by dialling 000 on your phone.
  • Observe first, fish later: always check weather and water conditions before you start fishing.
  • Inform others of your fishing plans: always let friends or family know where you are going and when you will be back.
  • If you wear chest waders, fasten a belt firmly around your waist. The belt will trap some air inside and provide a degree of buoyancy if you fall in, however caution is needed as it may also push you upside down.
  • If you fall in, assume a tuck position and roll on your back whilst keeping your knees tucked. Use your arms to balance. Do not try to swim but either tread water or float. If close to shore, use a “sculling” motion to move you to the shore. If in a fast current face downstream and go with the current feet first while working to towards a safe shore position if possible.

Safe spearfishing

Image of people spearfishing

Spearfishing can be a particularly dangerous form of recreational fishing. A few key safety tips include:

  • Never hyperventilate. Shallow water blackout is a real danger.
  • Never spearfish alone and always inform others of your fishing plans.
  • Always dive with a buddy in sight of you at all times and practice the "one diver up, one diver down" rule.
  • Never point your speargun at anyone (including yourself ) for any reason.
  • Avoid carrying spearguns through crowded areas.
  • Always handle your speargun as if it is loaded.
  • Never load your speargun while out of the water. Always load and unload your speargun while in the water.
  • Avoid propeller strike. To alert other vessels in the vicinity that there are divers on the surface ensure your safety vessel clearly displays the international diver-down flag "A" and that all divers in the water are towing a highly visible float with a safety flag attached.
  • Be considerate of other water users.
  • Avoid spearfishing in popular swimming locations.

Divers in the water - keep a proper lookout

Spearfishing, snorkelling and SCUBA diving are popular activities on the state's coastal waterways. However, participants in these activities can be at risk of being hit by a boat whilst on or near the surface. Both skippers and divers must maintain personal responsibilities and keep a proper lookout at all times.

Alpha flag

Alpha flag

Boat or buoy/float flag

As required by maritime regulations, when spearfishers, snorkelers or SCUBA divers are diving from a vessel, the blue and white 'Alpha Diver in the Water' flag should always be displayed from your vessel or from a buoy nearby the boat. It is also strongly recommended that an additional high visibility yellow/green flag is flown under the Alpha flag if divers, such as spearfishers, are at risk, on or near the surface whilst separated from their vessel for extended periods of time.

The Alpha Diver in the Water flag on the boat (or buoy) must be at least 40cm by 40cm. It is recommended the flags are flown as high as possible. Boat flags must be at least 1m vertically above the boat's superstructure or if flown from a buoy, at least 2m above the water surface.

Personal float and flags

When spearfishers and snorkelers are diving away from their vessel, boat buoy or the shore, it is strongly advised as a minimum, that the Alpha flag be flown from a brightly coloured personal float and towed no more than 40m away from the diver. Additionally it is also recommended that by adding a high visibility yellow/green second flag & upgrading to a similar high visibility coloured float you will maximise the chance of being seen by passing or approaching boats. Make sure the Alpha flag is in good condition and of right size and height to comply with regulations. It is recommended that flags on personal floats be at least 15cm high and 25cm wide and that they be flown above the float. It is also recommended your personal float has a minimum volume of 5 litres.

Know where divers go

  • Consider areas where divers may be present – headlands, rocky reefs, bomboras and sheltered coves.
  • Check your local boating maps for likely areas before going out.
  • Spearfishing and snorkelling vessels are not always at anchor and often move about picking up and dropping off divers.

Watch out, slow down and keep clear

  • Always keep an eye out for divers' floats and flags whenever in areas where diving activity is likely.
  • Keep well clear from any flags and floats and watch out for divers in the water. Remember, all vessels must slow down to less than 10 knots whenever within 60m of a person in the water.
  • Remember, spearfishers may be up to 40m or more from their float and flag.
  • Maintain a slow safe speed of less than 10 knots until well clear of any divers, their vessels or their floats and flags.
  • Navigate with caution at all times within 200m of the shore where divers may be present. Be particularly careful when visibility is poor, such as in fog, glare, low light and surface chop.
  • Avoid passing between a diving vessel and the shore. Pass well clear on the seaward side.

Take Care - Be Prop Aware

  • When picking up divers, or when within 60m of a float/flag, locate all divers first and then progress slowly. Select neutral if in doubt or before allowing anyone alongside or to board. Consider switching off the engine; particularly if people are boarding over the stern.
  • Avoid pick-ups that might place your boat in danger from a sudden wave. A person in the water could easily be hurt if you suddenly have to move your vessel. It is better to have all the divers swim out to deeper water so the pick-up doesn't have to be rushed. Be careful of float ropes fouling your propeller.
  • Always keep an eye on the prop area and make sure it is clear while ever the engine is running. Neutral is good, engine off is best when people are in the water near the stern. Never reverse without looking.

Take Care - Be Prop Aware banner

When spearfishing and diving:

  • Make sure you tow a float and flag whenever you are operating away from your vessel. You should also tow a float and flag when diving from the shore.
  • Use a large brightly coloured float for maximum visibility.
  • Maintain awareness of boat traffic around you. Listen and look as you ascend. If concerned, raise your speargun vertically above you to be more visible to others.
  • Consider carefully where you dive – don't rely solely on your float and flag to protect you – use common sense and avoid busy channels and other areas of high boating traffic. Raise your head often and look about.
  • Shorten up your float cord to suit shallower depths and thereby keep your float/flag closer to you.
  • Move the flag when you move.

Alpha flag with additional high visibility flags

Alpha flag

Alpha flag

Alpha flag

More information

Find out more on fishing safely by reading Primefact 1452: Fishing safely.