Vessel slams into rock

Lookout! Issue 25, June 2012

Two commercial skippers were out on an evening trip when their recreational vessel collided at speed with a rocky point.
Damaged vessel
Maritime New Zealand ©2020
The skipper was killed and his passenger seriously injured when the boat collided with a rocky point at speed at night.

The pair had set out in the 5.8 metre aluminium vessel with a 24-pack of beer to visit friends on other vessels dotted about a sound. They spent the evening visiting vessels, stopping to drink a few cans with friends on each.

The passenger later said the skipper liked to go fast, and the vessel was making about 35 to 40 knots.

They were last seen at about midnight as they left the last vessel and headed off on the 16 nautical mile trip back through the sound.

The passenger later said the skipper liked to go fast, and the vessel was making about 35 to 40 knots.

The following morning a Department of Conservation (DOC) vessel spotted what appeared to be a drifting vessel in the distance. Pulling up alongside, the DOC crew saw the skipper lying dead in the vessel and the passenger with significant head injuries.

Both men were airlifted to hospital by helicopter. The skipper had suffered fatal frontal impact injuries, and the passenger suffered multiple fractures to the face and skull, blood clots, and significant bruising.

Impact marks on a rocky point midway on the vessel’s return journey suggest that the vessel struck this point at speed, rather than rounding it as intended. The vessel’s GPS track had also stopped at this point.

The vessel’s bow was caved in from the impact, and its plastic steering wheel had broken off completely and was lying near the skipper. The handrail on the passenger’s side was bent, probably when the passenger was flung forward into it.


  • Despite both men being very experienced skippers, neither was able to maintain an effective lookout and situational awareness.
    • The skipper was found to have a blood alcohol level beyond the legal limit for driving a car – an amount linked to a clear deterioration of reaction time and control, slurred speech, poor coordination and slow thinking.
    • These effects would have been likely to contribute to the skipper's impaired decision-making on the return journey.
  • Boaties should get to know their equipment, and make it work for them. The vessel's GPS was set at the highest brilliance setting. It is possible this brightness contributed to the men's poor night vision. This setting can be easily altered.
    • The skipper was not using the GPS’ waypoint track navigation function, which allows waypoints to be manually set, and a course plotted between the two. With this function, if the vessel strays off track, a pre-set alarm sounds.

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