Intoxicated boatie menaces other water users

Lookout! Issue 30, December 2013

A man on a drinking binge while operating his boat on a busy lake caused a series of incidents that put the safety of other people at grave risk.

The boatie had bought a large quantity of alcohol before launching his 3.5 metre boat at the lake. Over the following 24 hours, he caused near misses and actual collisions with kayakers, wake boarders and a family at various sites around the lake. Witnesses said he was heavily intoxicated while operating the boat.

At one point, the man narrowly avoided running the boat onto land and hitting a two-year-old child. Immediately afterwards, he hit a boat while operating his own vessel at speed. In another incident, he drove his vessel right across the top of another, injuring its occupant.

Witnesses described the man steering his vessel directly towards a wake boarder who’d fallen into the water, and doing doughnuts (driving in tight circles) close to kayakers at speeds well in excess of the 5 knot limit.

The regional council took prosecution and the man was charged with using his boat in a way that caused unnecessary danger to other people. He was sentenced to 100 hours community work and nine months supervision as a result of the prosecution, and ordered to attend drug and alcohol counselling and a boat safety course. He was also ordered to pay reparation for damage to two boats.


  • A number of people at the lake were extremely distressed by the man’s behaviour on the water. Some contacted authorities directly because of their concern about the boatie’s actions, and a total of 13 witnesses were interviewed about the incidents.
    • The man had minimal boating experience, having only operated a boat on a couple of occasions previously. He admitted he was on medication as a result of a head injury suffered a year earlier and should not have been drinking, but was using the alcohol to deal with pressures he was under at the time.
    • Boaties should always avoid drinking alcohol both on boats and before they set out. Disaster can strike in the water within seconds, but even in small quantities, alcohol impairs reaction times, distorts judgment and affects coordination and sense of direction. Its effects are exaggerated on and in the water, and the ability to survive (if people end up in the water) is diminished.
    • Drinking and boating puts all water users in the area at risk. Under section 65 of the Maritime Transport Act, it is an offence to operate a vessel in a manner that causes unnecessary danger or risk to another person or property.
  • The man disregarded a range of obligations that maritime rules place on skippers of vessels.
    • Vessels are required to keep a proper lookout at all times, including actively looking for persons in the water. Accidents involving people in the water being struck by powered craft can result in serious injury or death. Because a person in the water can do little to avoid a boat, the responsibility to keep clear of people in the water lies with the vessel. A close lookout is especially important when operating close to the shore.
    • Vessels are required to proceed at a safe speed, and the likelihood of people being in the water needs to always be factored into determining what a safe speed is.
    • Within 200 metres of the shore, vessels are prohibited from operating in excess of 5 knots, to protect swimmers and others in the in-shore area from vessels operating at higher speeds.
    • If exceeding 5 knots in approved areas such as ski lanes, vessels are required to keep 50 metres from other vessels or persons in the water.
  • In sentencing, the judge said the boatie was a menace whose actions had nearly killed people. The judge said he was amazed that drivers face severe penalties for drink driving on the road, yet some of them think it’s safe to operate their boat after drinking.

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