From luxury launch to unsalvageable wreck

A skipper with more than 26,000 nautical miles of offshore experience fell asleep at the helm, despite taking precautions to prevent fatigue.
a large pleasure craft that appears to have collided with some rocks and is partially submerged as a result.

The skipper slept on in the wheelhouse, while his luxury launch motored along on autopilot with its watchkeeping alarms sounding. The launch struck rocks, ripping a hole in the hull. The wreckage was unsalvageable.

The vessel had sailed to New Zealand from Fiji. Throughout the journey, the watch had been shared by four crew on a 2-hourly roster. Reaching New Zealand waters, the vessel had cleared Customs and the skipper and crew were joined for dinner by a fresh crew member before returning to the marina for a full night's rest.

The next morning, the skipper, one of the existing crew and the new crew member prepared the vessel for the day's voyage to its next port. The vessel motored throughout the day, making about 15 knots in excellent weather conditions. That evening, the crew stopped to dive for scallops, then continued towards the port.

"It was a warm, calm evening, with about 8 knots of wind," the skipper said.

After dinner, the skipper went below, had a shower and got changed, then took over the watch. The existing crew member went to get cleaned up, lay down on his bunk and went straight off to sleep.

The skipper and the new crew member were sitting together in the wheelhouse. The vessel was within an hour of port after the long journey, conditions were calm, the men were clean and comfortable, and they soon drifted off to sleep. Later reports showed that the vessel had tracked across the path of a container vessel before hitting rocks.

"All the watchkeeping alarms were set, and they were working too. I was woken up by being knocked out. When I came to I could hear alarms blaring."

The skipper then headed downstairs and met the other crew member, who said the vessel was taking on water. The skipper made a mayday call and drove the boat towards the beach, where it grounded in 2 metres of water. The three were rescued by a nearby pilot boat.

The vessel couldn't be winched free of the water and was eventually broken up and removed by diggers.

"All I can say is, if you think there’s any chance you're tired, take two night's sleep. What's another day? Nobody wants to go through what we went through. We were just lucky no one was hurt."

a large recreational vessel is beached on a shoreline while three divers stand nearby while a yellow digger uses its shovel to pull the vessel closer on shore.
Photos – Bay of Plenty Times
Special thanks go to the skipper of this vessel for his willingness to share his experiences.

Fatigue facts

  • The skipper and crew had tried to avoid fatigue.
  • All had slept well and had avoided alcohol, and all watchkeeping alarms were set.
  • Sailing conditions were good.