Jet boats meet head-on while travelling blind

Lookout! Issue 27, December 2012

A breakdown in communication led to two jet boats speeding towards each other in a narrow stream and colliding on a blind corner.
Rescue
Maritime New Zealand ©2019
One of the passengers had to walk to an area with cellphone reception to call for help.

The jet boats, one fibreglass and the other alloy, were travelling along a river when they came to a smaller side-stream they hadn’t explored before. A chainsaw was used to clear a gap through a fallen tree, so that the boats could access the stream.

The alloy boat passed through the gap to check out the stream first, while the fibreglass boat waited at the tree. On its return, arrangements were made for the alloy boat to stay at the tree and film the fibreglass boat as it travelled through the gap in the trees.

The fibreglass boat headed off, expecting the alloy boat to follow along after the filming. However, the alloy boat waited at the tree, expecting the other boat to return.

River
The two jet boats were boating on a river together, but had no way of checking each other’s position.
Maritime New Zealand ©2019

Both drivers waited for each other to arrive, and after a while they separately concluded that the other must have had some sort of problem. They had no means of contacting each other to check their assumptions.

The fibreglass boat headed back downstream at the same time as the alloy boat headed upstream.

The boats met at a narrow corner of the stream and crashed, injuring three people on board. The driver of the alloy boat suffered a broken leg, and he and a passenger were knocked unconscious.

They had no way to raise the alarm and one of the passengers had to walk to an area where there was cellphone coverage to call for help.

The injured driver and passenger were taken to hospital. Injuries sustained by people on the other boat included loose teeth, broken ribs, back pain and bruising.

LOOKOUT! Points

  • This was a completely avoidable accident that could have resulted in multiple fatalities. The local council charged the jet boat drivers under the Maritime Transport Act 1994 with operating their vessels unsafely.
    • The men faced potential maximum penalties of $10,000 and one year’s imprisonment. Each driver was fined $1,500 and ordered to pay $500 costs to a passenger who sustained a brain haemorrhage, concussion and lacerations. The judge stressed that people operating powerful vessels, such as jet boats, need to take extreme care to avoid putting themselves and others at risk.
  • Had the drivers planned their trip properly, the accident need not have happened. By failing to clearly and fully communicate their intentions to each other, a situation developed where each assumed to know what the other intended. Travel plans on the water should be clearly set out and repeated back to the other party to make sure they are understood.
  • Vessels should always carry at least two forms of communication that will work in the area, especially when operating as part of a group or in an isolated environment.
    • There was no cellphone coverage in the area and the drivers had no way of contacting each other when they were in different parts of the stream. Had someone on each boat carried a hand-held VHF radio, the accident could have been avoided. Unable to communicate or check each other’s plans, they went in search of each other and collided.
    • Lacking a means of calling for help after the accident, one of the passengers had to walk to an area that had cellphone coverage before the alarm could be raised. This delayed the rescue, which in different circumstances could have proved fatal.
    • Had they carried a distress beacon (PLB or EPIRB), they would have been able to raise the alarm and summon help more quickly.
  • The stream had a speed restriction of 5 knots. Had the drivers adhered to this speed restriction, it is likely they would have been unable to boat the stream and the collision would not have occurred.

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