Boaties out of their depth with alcohol

Lookout! Issue 32, December 2014 – January 2015

A man who’d been drinking all day on a fishing expedition drowned after the boat ran out of fuel and he tried to swim ashore.
Abandoned boat on shore
Maritime New Zealand ©2019
While the men were struggling in the water, their abandoned boat washed up on shore.

The man was one of a group of four who set out on a fishing trip in a four metre runabout. Two of the party decided the conditions were too rough and were returned to shore, but the man and his brother stayed on, drinking whisky and beer while they fished. They got lost as they headed back to the boat ramp, and their boat ran out of fuel less than a hundred metres from shore.

The water was between 3 and 5 metres in depth, which was deeper than he’d expected, and he was wearing a lifejacket that didn’t fit him properly.

Although his brother, the skipper, urged him not to, the man entered the water to try to tow the boat ashore. The water was between 3 and 5 metres in depth, which was deeper than he’d expected, and he was wearing a lifejacket that didn’t fit him properly. Being a poor swimmer, he was very quickly in difficulty.

Whisky bottle
The men drank whisky and beer while they fished, and this bottle was in the boat when it washed up.
Maritime New Zealand ©2019

The skipper jumped in to try to rescue his brother, but he was also a weak swimmer. After struggling for about 15 minutes to keep his brother afloat, the skipper was unable to do any more to help and, overcome, he closed his eyes, face down in the water. During this time, their abandoned boat washed up ashore.

The men were spotted by people on shore, who swam out and brought the unconscious men in. The rescuers provided first aid until emergency services arrived and administered professional medical help. Although the skipper regained consciousness, his brother was unable to be revived and was pronounced dead at the scene.

LOOKOUT! Points

  • This completely avoidable boating tragedy highlights the real dangers of operating or being in a vessel while under the influence of alcohol. Safe boating and alcohol do not mix. Things can change quickly on the water, and all on board need to stay alert and aware of the risks. Being affected by alcohol could mean you are unable to make the right decisions and keep yourself and others safe from harm.
  • Evidence collected during the investigation clearly showed that the skipper and the deceased had consumed a large quantity of alcohol. The skipper told the police he had drunk a bottle of whisky on the day. The dead man had a blood alcohol reading of 48 milligrams per 100 millilitres.
  • The effects of alcohol are well documented and have been widely publicised. Alcohol causes disorientation and gives people a false sense of their situation, prompting themto attempt tasks beyond their capability. The man’s decision to get into the water, despite being a poor swimmer, probably set in train the disastrous events that followed. Had he and his brother stayed with their boat instead, they may have either washed ashore on board without putting themselves at great risk, or been sighted by people on shore and rescued.
  • With alcohol, your coordination and ability to do a simple task – such as putting on a lifejacket – are reduced. It is harder to stay afloat or hold your breath. Blood flow is reduced, contributing to muscle, heat and fluid loss. Your airway protection reflexes are suppressed, which makes it easier for you to inhale water, and you are more susceptible to cold and less aware of the onset of hypothermia.
  • Maritime rules require the skipper in charge of a boat to ensure there are enough lifejackets of an appropriate size and type for each person on board. In this case, it is believed there was only one lifejacket on the boat, and it did not fit the person who wore it.
  • Had the man who drowned been wearing a lifejacket that was the right size, he may have been able to keep his head above water and conserve energy. Ths would have reduced panic and increased his chances of surviving until he could be rescued or make it to shore. His brother, trying to keep him afloat without wearing a lifejacket, was fortunate not to have lost his life as well.

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Cover of Issue 32
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