Injury caused by passing boat’s wake

Lookout! Issue 27, December 2012

A woman was thrown into the air and landed hard, injuring her back, when a boat crossed the wake of a larger vessel heading in the opposite direction.

The woman, visiting from overseas, was a passenger on a fishing charter boat. The boat had slowed to approach a harbour channel and needed to pass behind a more powerful boat heading in the opposite direction.

The operator of the larger vessel had not fully appreciated the effects of the large wake it created...

The wake struck the charter boat heavily and the woman, who was sitting on the step of the cabin and leaning forward preparing to get up, had just got hold of the handle to her left. She was reaching for the handle on her right and didn’t have the opportunity to brace herself. She became airborne, jarring her back as she landed.

She was reaching for the handle on her right and didn’t have the opportunity to brace herself. She became airborne, jarring her back as she landed.

The charter trip was immediately abandoned and the boat tied up at the closest wharf, but the woman couldn’t stand up and was unable to disembark at the jetty.

The boat travelled slowly to another port in more sheltered waters, where it was met by an ambulance.

The woman suffered a fractured vertebra and, for some time after the incident, had to wear a body brace to support her back and eventually allow her to travel home.

LOOKOUT! Points

  • This incident highlights the importance of larger vessels being aware of the effects of their wake on other boats, especially when leaving harbours and restricted waters. Skippers and helmsmen of bigger boats need to take the proximity of other vessels into account when deciding what speed they will travel at.
  • The larger vessel was accelerating as it departed from the harbour. Its skipper said he had checked whether any other boats were in the immediate vicinity when the helmsman said he was increasing speed. The fishing charter boat was some distance away, but the size of the wake created by the larger vessel and the choppy sea state on the day had a big impact on it.
  • The operator of the larger vessel had not fully appreciated the effects of the large wake it created, but has since taken steps to prevent smaller vessels being adversely affected in future. The larger vessel’s operator has changed its procedures, and now requires the person at the helm to double check with the skipper that no other vessel is close by, before increasing speed.

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