I’m asked if I

… know of any legislation in relation to the use of reds and blues on NSW SES vessels. On a community engagement activity NSWPF informed that they were not to have them fitted to boats and only the RMS and Police could. Seeing as most SES medium to large punts and boats that I have seen have them fitted it would be good to know whether they are actually illegal to be used by us.

Before I could answer my correspondent did some further research and wrote:

Never mind found the section from the RMS Intranet, however it doesn’t specify that SES can. It does state on behalf of the RMS, Police, Ambulance and any Fire Service you can use reds and blues for an emergency patrol.

So I assume we can have them fitted but only use them under direction of those agencies.

Reference is Clause 7 of the Marine Safety Regulation 2016. (Unfortunately it’s not a piece of legislation under the RMS public site, only found it after looking at a manual for the RMS)

It does seem like an oversight to not include the SES as we have the largest fleet of any emergency service and training to rescue distressed individual.

Of course the SES is not the combat agency for maritime rescue but if something would occur I am sure that the use of lights would increase safety especially when an on water emergency develops with one of our boat crews nearby.

The Marine Safety Regulation 2016 (NSW) cl 7(1) says:

A person must not operate a vessel that displays an emergency patrol signal unless:

(a) the display has been authorised in writing by RMS for the purpose of enabling the carrying out of emergency patrol duty, or

(b) the vessel is operated on behalf of RMS, the NSW Police Force, the Newcastle Port Corporation, the Ambulance Service of NSW or a fire service for the purpose of carrying out an emergency patrol duty, or

(c) the vessel is operated on behalf of Volunteer Marine Rescue NSW (ABN 98 138 078 092) for the purpose of carrying out any emergency patrol duty.

An ‘emergency patrol signal’ is ‘an all-round flashing blue light, or flashing blue and red lights’; “emergency patrol duty” means ‘an urgent patrol or duty arising from an accident, hazard or other emergency or authorised by RMS’ (cl 7(4)).

The first thing to note is that the red/blue lights can be fitted to a vessel operated ‘on behalf of RMS, the NSW Police Force, the Newcastle Port Corporation, the Ambulance Service of NSW or a fire service’.    An SES vessel is operated by the SES, it is not operated ‘on behalf’ of one of those other agencies.  To be operated ‘on behalf of’ would be more like a charter system, for example the NSW Ambulance helicopter service, using helicopters all painted up in NSW Ambulance logos, is operated by a private company CHC (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CHC_Helicopter#Ambulance).   They operate a helicopter ‘on behalf of’ NSW Ambulance.  Similar arrangements may be made with respect to boats for emergency services where they operate under contract or other arrangements.   It may be that if there was an emergency and the SES were asked to take paramedics to the emergency and transport them, and their patient back to dry land, that this would be operating ‘on behalf of’ the ambulance service, but I think a better view is the vessel is still being operated by the SES as part of the SES’s function of assisting the other emergency services (State Emergency Service Act 1989 (NSW) s 8(1)(g)).

Regulation 138 allows for the use of blue lights by ‘an accredited rescue unit (within the meaning of the State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989)’.  The SES is the principle agency for flood rescue ((State Emergency Service Act 1989 (NSW) s 8(1)(aa) and (a)).   Given the statutory authority the SES does not need accreditation by the State Rescue board for flood rescue operations (see also State Rescue Policy (3rd Edition Version 3.5, December 2014), [1.18] and [1.36]).   It follows that the SES can have blue lights (and note it does not say ‘blue flashing’ lights) on vessels that are used for flood rescue.

Conclusion

The answer is that the SES can display an ‘emergency patrol signal’ – that is ‘an all-round flashing blue light, or flashing blue and red lights’ – if it has been ‘authorised in writing by RMS’ to do so.  The problem is that this authorisation is not readily available for public inspection.   The best we can do is assume, or at least hope, the SES has received the relevant authority, in writing.