Failing to keep a lookout proves costly

Lookout! Issue 26, September 2012

Two vessels collided after they moved away from a group of fishing boats into more open waters and failed to keep a proper lookout.
Maritime New Zealand ©2020
The vessels collided at right angles, but no one was injured.

About 30 vessels were trolling for tuna in an area about 27 nautical miles offshore. In trolling, a vessel pulls lures through the water on poles while travelling at speeds of around five knots. The poles extend up to 8 metres from the side of the vessel. Because tuna tend to congregate closely in schools, fishing vessels routinely work in close proximity to each other, with the associated risk that their poles might clash.

On this occasion, both vessels had been fishing in and around the main group of vessels throughout the day. Then, independently of each other, they ventured further afield beyond the group as the supply of fish dropped off.

The vessels collided at right angles. The skipper of one vessel says he noticed the other vessel about five minutes before the impact, but he assumed the two would pass safely and did not consider any evasive action was needed. At the time, he was in the wheelhouse/galley, which was located at the aft of the vessel. He continued cooking while the crew worked on deck.

The give-way vessel sustained substantial damage, with a gaping hole in the bow.
Maritime New Zealand ©2020

The skipper of the other vessel was working alone, without the required two persons on board when working outside the 12 nautical mile limit. He was hauling in fish and not aware of another vessel”s approach.

In the crossing situation that developed, his was the give-way vessel, required to take early and decisive action to keep well clear of the other vessel.

As the stand-on vessel, the other vessel was required to take action to avoid a collision as soon as it became apparent that the give-way vessel was not taking appropriate action.

Neither skipper complied with lookout requirements and neither was able to take action to avoid the collision. No one was injured, but the give-way vessel sustained substantial structural damage with a gaping hole in the bow. After rigging up three extra pumps to keep ahead of the water coming in, the vessel was escorted back to port.


  • Near misses are possible when vessels are operating in a high-density fishing area. Ensuring that an impact does not occur requires keeping an effective lookout at all times, and being prepared to take appropriate action to avoid it.
    • Even if you”re the stand-on vessel, if you”re involved in a crash you”re at fault as well. Both skippers failed to keep a proper lookout and avoid collision, and both could have been liable for heavy fines for dangerous activity in breach of maritime rules.
  • The give-way vessel was incorrectly manned, and the skipper admitted having fished alone on other occasions. He could not keep a proper lookout at all times, as required, because he was fishing on his own, 27 nautical miles out at sea and surrounded by other vessels. Had he had a crew member, they would have been able to keep a proper lookout and avoid the collision.
  • Because the vessel did not meet manning requirements, the insurer declined to pay the owner”s claim for repairs. The owner incurred substantial repair costs, and faced the risk of not being able to secure affordable insurance cover for his vessel in future.
    • Operating without the prescribed number of crew can also result in fines up to $100,000 for the operator, and up to $10,000 or 12 months” imprisonment for the skipper. On this occasion, MNZ issued him with a formal warning.
  • The skipper who was fishing alone says he has learned a very costly lesson, and he won”t be doing it again. He says times have got tougher in the fishing industry and sometimes you make a decision to do what you can to survive, by not taking on staff – but the risk is just not worth it.
    • He admits he thought his vessel was large and stable enough to cope with fishing alone, with good radar and a good proximity alarm, but says he had probably lowered his guard because he was tired.
    • He says before the collision, he was “knocking on the door of being freehold”, but the $100,000 cost of repairs and five months away from fishing have meant “everything I gained from not having a crew has gone straight down the drain”.

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