Ballast water

​​​​​​​​​Ballast water is water taken on board by vessels to maintain stability and trim. Ballast water can contain thousands of aquatic microbes, plan​ts and animals, which can be spread across the globe as the vessel releases ballast water. Unmanaged ballast water released in foreign ports could potentially introduce a range of invasive marine species. Invasions have already taken place around the world, in some instances with significant consequences for the local ecosystem.

The Biosecurity Act 2015 and some other related delegated legislation, collectively prescribe how ballast water should be managed within Australian seas.

The Australian Ballast Water Management Requirements explain how to comply with the legislation while operating a vessel in Australian waters. In general, vessels have the following obligations:

  • manage ballast water prior to arrival in Australian seas, and between Australian ports
  • carry a ballast water management plan, ballast water management certificate, and maintain ballast water records

From 8 September 2019, all vessels that use ballast water are required to meet the regulation D-2 discharge standard of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments at their next renewal survey. Some vessels may be required to install an International Maritime Organisation (IMO) approved ballast water management system to meet new ballast water discharge standards. For more information on when a vessel will need to meet the discharge standard, please refer to the Australian Ballast Water Management fact sheets.

Exemptions are available for some vessels

Some vessels may be eligible for exemptions from some or all of Australia’s requirements. These include General Exemptions which do not require an application, and Case by Case Exemptions for vessels operating solely in Australian waters.

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Ballast water management requirements

The Australian Ballast Water Management Requirements explain how to comply with the requirements of both the Biosecurity Act and Amendment Act. Vessel masters who cannot comply with the requirements should phone the Maritime National Coordination Centre on 1300 004 605 for advice.

Failure to do so before discharging ballast water may result in civil penalties for the operator of the vessel.

Exemptions that you can apply for

Vessels must keep records of ballast operations and must manage their ballast water according to Australia’s requirements. However, case by case exemptions for some obligations are available upon application for vessels operating solely within Australian waters.

Exemption from the requirement to install a ballast water management system

Applications will be considered for:

  • floating platforms, Floating Storage Units (FSUs) and Floating Production, Storage and Offloading Units (FPSOs) operating exclusively in Australian waters
  • vessels unable to retrofit a ballast water management system based on certified design restrictions
  • fishing vessels which use anti-heeling tanks and only source ballast water outside 12 nautical miles from nearest land

Exemption from carrying a ballast water management certificate or plan

Vessels may apply for an exemption from certification requirements where equivalent measures for biosecurity and safety can be demonstrated. Applications will be considered for vessels that:

  • weigh less than 400 gross tonnes
  • only use potable water as ballast, and only discharge for the purpose of scheduled maintenance, dry-docking or emergency
  • are fishing vessels that use anti-heeling tanks and only source ballast water outside 12 nautical miles from nearest land
  • are dumb barges with no pumps or power source
  • are recreational, or search and rescue vessels, less than 50 metres in length, with less than 8 cubic metres of ballast

To apply for either of these exemptions, download the application form and email it to Marine Pests.


DocumentPagesFile size
Application for ballast water exemptions PDF7336 KB

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Low risk management exemptions

Vessels may be eligible for exemptions from managing Australian sourced ballast water between specific ports, where the ballast transfer has been determined to be low risk.

From 8 September 2017, a vessel’s operator may apply for a low risk exemption using the Australian Sourced Ballast Application in the Maritime Arrivals Reporting System (MARS).

Quick Domestic Ballast Water Risk Assessment Tool

The Quick Domestic Ballast Water Risk Assessment Tool provides an indication of whether ballast water taken up at an Australian port and discharged at another Australian port, will be considered low or high risk based on the Australian Ballast Water Risk Assessment.

This tool does not provide a formal risk based exemption. An application must be made in the Maritime Arrivals Reporting System (MARS) for a risk based exemption.

A vessel issued with a risk based exemption from MARS for a particular voyage is not required to manage the relevant ballast water prior to discharge at the intended port.

Any high risk ballast water MUST be managed prior to discharge at the intended port.

For more information on how to comply with biosec​urity requirements for ballast water, including acceptable areas for undertaking ballast water exchange, please refer to the department's Australian Ballast Water Management Requirements.

Policy and legislation

Ballast water is regulated under the Biosecurity Act 2015, which was amended by the Biosecurity Amendment (Ballast Water and Other Measures) Act 2017 (Amendment Act), the Biosecurity (Ballast Water and Sediments) Determination 2017, and the Biosecurity (Ballast Water Same Risk Area) Instrument 2017.

The Australian Ballast Water Management Requirements explain how to comply with the requirements of the Biosecurity Act. Other guidance and legislation related to ballast water management are available on the Biosecurity Legislation page.

Australia’s ballast water policy and legislation align with the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships' Ballast Water and Sediments (Ballast Water Management Convention).

Keep up to date with ballast water requirements

If you would like to be kept informed of further developments in the implementation of nationally consistent ballast water arrangements, please subscribe to regular updates.

Alternatively, for more information please email Marine Pests.

Fact sheets

From 8 September 2019, new legislation and requirements apply to ballast water management in Australian waters. The following fact sheets provide guidance for international and domestic vessels travelling within Australian waters.


DocumentPagesFile size
Ballast water management phase-out schedule PDF21.3 MB
Ballast water management phase-out schedule DOCX2178 KB

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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