No help at hand for jet boat crash

Lookout! Issue 25, June 2012

Three men were thrown into a river when a jet boat travelling at speed hit a submerged rock.

One of the men was thought to have died at the scene and received limited first aid attention. He later regained consciousness after suffering serious injuries, but his survival was uncertain after being hospitalised, due to the extent of his injuries.

The boat’s owner and driver, who had travelled on the river many times, was transporting the three men on a Christmas work trip in convoy with another jet boat. Everyone drank beer during the day, with the driver of the jet boat that crashed consuming six stubbies.

Jet boat
All three men were thrown into the river when the jet boat they were travelling in hit a rock at speed.
Maritime New Zealand ©2019

On their return journey, one of the jet boats struck a rock while travelling at about 50 kilometres an hour.

The water was slow, only about knee deep, with no ripples, and the rock wasn’t visible at the surface. The driver was unharmed, but all three passengers were thrown from the boat into the water.

The driver dragged the men out of the water onto the riverbank. Meanwhile, the other jet boat went downstream to raise the alarm at a farmhouse. The rescue helicopter and paramedics eventually arrived at the remote location.

The unconscious man woke up at the scene, but had significant head injuries and a broken neck. He spent weeks in intensive care and needed long-term medical treatment. The other two men suffered serious, though not life-threatening, injuries.

LOOKOUT! Points

  • Although travelling in an isolated area, the men in both jet boats were unprepared for any emergency. The men were taking recommended safety precautions by wearing lifejackets, but were not able to treat the injured people or call for help. This accident highlights the need for boaties in remote places to be self-sufficient.
  • There was no first aid kit on board either boat and no one on either vessel was trained in first aid. Boaties should carry first aid equipment on board and more than one person should know how to administer first aid.
  • The men were out of cell phone range and had no means of raising the alarm or requesting assistance, apart from relying on one of the boats driving off to find a phone. They needed to carry at least two reliable waterproof means of calling for help that would work in the area they were boating.
    • A distress beacon or waterproof handheld VHF carried in a pocket or float-free grab bag would have enabled the men to alert emergency services and receive help more quickly.
  • While there was no evidence to suggest the boat was being operated in a way that posed danger or risk to the passengers, and no mechanical faults contributed to the accident, the rear seat, which incorporated the engine cover, was not secured.
    • On impact with the rock, the person sitting on the rear seat would have been propelled out of the vessel faster than if it had been properly fixed down. It is important to check a vessel before setting out on a trip that may involve rough conditions or high speeds, and secure any fastenings in case of sudden impact.
  • Although alcohol was not named as the cause of the accident in this case, it is well known that when boaties consume alcohol, reaction times are affected and their ability to deal with emergencies is impaired. Remember, alcohol and water don’t mix.

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