Speeding cruiser snags family runabout
Lookout! Issue 31, August 2014
The 17m motor vessel was headed up harbour towards the entrance to a marina when people fishing from a group of anchored vessels noticed it steaming towards them. As it approached, it sounded its horn, while witnesses grew increasingly alarmed as it closed on their vessels without altering course or slowing down.
The motor vessel appeared to be steering on a collision course with several craft, but changed its course at the last minute, passing between two boats closely anchored together and missing one of them by less than a metre.
As it passed, the motor vessel picked up the anchor rope of the 4.5m runabout, and the jolt almost threw a child overboard. The runabout was towed for about 30m at a speed up to 10 knots, before its skipper managed to cut the anchor rope.
The motor vessel continued without slowing down or stopping and berthed at the marina, where its skipper was later interviewed by Maritime Police and MNZ. The skipper said because of the narrow channel, he’d had no option other than to pass through the vessels to access the marina entrance, even though they were not anchored in the marina channel.
He had not realised the vessels he passed were anchored or that they had fishing lines in the water. He also claimed to have been travelling at a speed of no more than 3 knots and was not aware of the bylaws and rules for passing speeds and distances from other vessels and the shore.
The skipper was charged under Section 65 of the Maritime Transport Act 1994 with operating a ship in a way that caused unnecessary danger or risk to other people. He pleaded guilty and was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay reparations of $2,000 to the family.
- Maritime rules place a number of obligations on skippers, including the requirement to maintain a proper lookout at all times, keep a safe distance from other vessels and proceed at a safe speed.
- This close-quarters situation was avoidable and put the safety of a large number of people needlessly at risk. The towed vessel was in danger of being pulled under the water, endangering the lives of the four people on board. It was also a terrifying encounter for those on board the neighbouring craft, who were sure they would be hit. With fishing lines in the water and anchors down, they could not quickly move out of the way. The children on board the runabout were traumatised by the incident.
- The skipper deliberately took a course through a concentration of anchored vessels when it was clearly dangerous to do so. His vessel could easily have passed well away from the vessels by taking a longer route to the marina. Other large vessels using the harbour that morning had managed to give the anchored boats a wide berth.
- The skipper was travelling too fast and had not made himself aware of the maritime rules and bylaws for safe navigation in New Zealand waters. All vessels operating in close proximity to each other must follow all relevant maritime rules and bylaws to avoid causing any danger to members of the public.
- Skippers of overseas vessels who operate in New Zealand waters are required to educate themselves about, and follow, the maritime rules and bylaws for safe navigation.
- This incident could easily have resulted in serious harm, but would have been avoided completely if sensible navigational practices had been followed. The successful prosecution sends a clear message that behaviour by either recreational or commercial skippers that poses a danger or risk of harm at sea will not be tolerated.