Tourist falls into unguarded hatch

Lookout! Issue 27, December 2012

A tourist fell through a cabin hatch left open and unguarded by the skipper, and had to be hospitalised with a serious injury.
Unguarded hatch
Maritime New Zealand ©2020
A passenger fell down the unguarded hatch while the skipper was retrieving a tool from the hold.

While cruising in coastal waters, the skipper had noticed a problem with the boat’s engine and needed to retrieve a tool from the hold.

After checking that all of the passengers were at the rear of the cabin and not moving about, he lifted the hatch lid from between two rows of seats and slid it under the seats, before climbing down into the hold.

Unguarded hatch
The hatch cover as it should have been set up on the boat.
Maritime New Zealand ©2020

He knew he’d be in the hold very briefly, and so didn’t bother placing a safety barrier or warning in front of the hatch opening.

While the skipper was in the hold, a passenger began moving forward while he was looking out the window at the scenery. He failed to notice the hatch was open and fell into the opening as the skipper was about to climb out, landing on the skipper’s back.

The passenger sustained a fractured lower leg, requiring surgery in hospital. The skipper was unhurt.


  • This incident illustrates how complacency about using safety guards on vessels can have serious consequences. The skipper, who was experienced and had worked for the company for many years, chose not to follow the vessel’s safe operating procedures.
    • Instead of propping up the hatch lid as a physical barrier and warning sign – as it was designed to be used during times when the hatch was opened – he slid it out of sight, leaving the opening to the hold unprotected and exposed.
  • The Health and Safety in Employment (HSE) Act 1992 requires employers and employees to take all practicable steps to avoid causing harm in the workplace. The company had robust operating procedures for dealing with hazards such as open hatches.
  • The skipper failed to comply with these procedures, which constituted a breach of the Act. The Director of MNZ was satisfied with internal measures taken by the company.

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