Man dies after salvaging boat at night

Lookout! Issue 26, September 2012

A man died when his jet boat flipped over on an unfamiliar stretch of river at night, trapping him underneath.
Flipped boat
Maritime New Zealand ©2019
A man died when his jet boat flipped at night, trapping him underneath.

Early in the day, the man and his brother had travelled upriver in the 10 foot jet boat, following a route the man had taken on a number of occasions previously. Later, when they returned to their launching point, he decided to take another quick run in the opposite direction, to trial a different formulation of fuel. Work had recently been done on the boat and, while pleased with how it was performing, the man was concerned about smoke coming from the exhaust.

As they motored downriver, they turned into a channel where the water grew increasingly shallow and the boat eventually became firmly wedged on a bed of shingle. Daylight was running out, but the men were unable to shift the boat, and the owner didn’t think there was any way to properly secure it overnight. He feared rain in the headwaters could come down and wash it away.

The men returned on foot to their van and carried back several metal poles, which they were able to wedge beneath the boat and gradually shift it back into the water.

By this time it was dark. The owner decided to continue motoring downriver, as his GPS had shown the channel was likely to soon merge with a bigger arm of the river. His brother, agreeing to follow on foot until the river got deeper, suddenly heard three loud bangs, followed by silence. When he reached the boat it was upside down, with the driver trapped face-down beneath it. With difficulty, he released the man and dragged him ashore to administer CPR, but it was too late to save him.

The brother then had to make his way back to the van on foot and break a window to access a cellphone and call for help.

LOOKOUT! Points

  • When the accident happened, in an isolated part of the river and at night, there was no way to call for assistance. Any means of communication carried on the boat became inaccessible when it flipped over, and the surviving man had to walk some distance in darkness before he could raise the alarm.
    • Had the men each carried a cellphone on their person, secured inside a ziplock plastic bag, help could have been sought much sooner.
  • Although the men were in unfamiliar terrain and night was approaching, they continued trying to salvage the boat. Had they left it where it was and returned the next day in daylight, the driver would have been able to clearly see where he was going and avoid any obstacles in the vessel’s way.
    • When a boat has broken down or grounded in a remote location and night is falling, it can be dangerous to try to resolve the problem and complete the journey in darkness. Do what you can to make your boat secure and go home for the night.

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