Vessels collide in sheltered waters

Lookout! Issue 25, June 2012

A commercial vessel transporting workers to a worksite in sheltered waters collided with a yacht travelling on a reciprocal course, despite reasonable visibility and conditions.
Maritime New Zealand ©2020
The catamaran was relatively undamaged.

The 8.5 metre catamaran was travelling at about 20 knots, with the wipers operating intermittently to remove windborne spray from the windows. An 8.5 metre yacht was travelling at about 4 knots in the opposing direction.

The yacht’s skipper saw the catamaran ahead, travelling well to port of his intended track. He made an alteration to starboard, but was unconcerned because he assessed there was ample safe passing distance on their reciprocal courses.

As the vessels approached each other, the catamaran veered to port and collided with the yacht at a right angle. The yacht’s skipper said he could not see anyone in the wheelhouse as the catamaran bore down on him, and only had time to engage full astern. He was then thrown overboard as the catamaran struck amidships and rode up onto the cabin top.

The yacht was a total loss, but was able to be salvaged because its rigging stayed attached to the catamaran
Maritime New Zealand ©2020

When the yacht’s skipper surfaced alongside, he saw above him the two outboard engine propellers, still turning, well clear of the surface of the water.

The skipper of a passenger vessel travelling on a parallel course with the catamaran saw the collision and was able to provide assistance.

The catamaran’s skipper came out of the cabin in a confused state and appeared to have no recollection of what had happened. He was taken for medical treatment for a gash caused by his forehead striking the vessel. He was hospitalised for the night and discharged.

A possible explanation is that the catamaran’s hull may have broached on a wave, causing a sudden lurch to port and knocking the skipper over.


  • Maritime rules state that if vessels are on a reciprocal course and a risk of collision exists, then each vessel must alter to starboard and pass port to port. Not enough is known about why the catamaran veered towards the yacht in this incident to draw conclusions about steps that might have prevented the accident.
  • The doctor who evaluated the catamaran’s skipper ruled out a medical event as the cause of the vessel altering course.
  • If the catamaran’s skipper had been wearing an engine cut-out lanyard, the collision may have been avoided. The lanyard would have cut power to the engine when he fell, and stopped the vessel’s forward momentum. The catamaran’s owner is now requiring all skippers of its vessels to wear an engine cut-out lanyard when operating the vessel on their own, except at close quarters when the vessel is travelling at less than 5 knots.
  • The catamaran’s skipper was using a GPS plotter, but had not activated the radar. If the radar had been working, the skipper may have been made aware of the yacht’s close proximity and taken action in time to avoid hitting it. All other skippers of the organisation’s commercial vessels have been briefed about the need to use all available navigation aids aboard at all times.

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