Ten hours drifting in 40 knots before master used EPIRB

Lookout! Issue 35, June 2016

The owner of a South Island fishing vessel has been warned by Maritime NZ after the master took 10 hours to activate an EPIRB when the vessel’s intermediate shaft bearing seized, causing the boat to drift off-shore without power in 40 knot (75 km/h) winds late last year.

The 15-metre boat was subsequently detained, while Maritime NZ made enquiries into the incident and the owner participated in an educational seminar about maritime safety rules and requirements under MOSS (the Maritime Operator Safety System that replaced SSM).

The master said the vessel was about 24 kilometres off-shore when a bearing seized and the intermediate shaft broke. Attempts to make radio contact with a shore-based station and other vessels in the area were unsuccessful due to radio malfunction.

After drifting to almost 90 kilometres off-shore, the master finally decided to activate the EPIRB (emergency position-indicating radio beacon) at about 8am on the morning after the late-night incident. A helicopter was directed to the scene by the Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand (RCCNZ), and arrangements made for another vessel to rendezvous and tow the stricken boat back to safe harbour.

Maritime NZ enquiries revealed the owner and master did not understand how to implement and maintain the vessel’s MOSS procedures. The master and crewman operating the vessel had not been inducted as required in the vessel’s Maritime Transport Operator Plan (MTOP). They did not follow the documented safety procedures and carry out a radio check on the day of the incident.

The master did not follow the emergency procedures for loss of propulsion, and did not understand his responsibility under the MTOP. Meanwhile, the owner had not ensured all crew were inducted and also failed to follow other procedures outlined for the owner in the MTOP.

Maritime NZ required the owner to participate in a seminar educating mariners in what is required under MOSS. Both he and the master were then able to demonstrate their new knowledge during a MOSS audit, conducted by Maritime NZ.

The vessel was allowed to return to operation after the MOSS audit and a satisfactory surveyor’s report had been completed for the whole boat.


  • By leaving the vessel to drift for hours the master was putting his life and crewman’s life at risk, as well as those aboard any other vessel with which they might have collided during the night.
  • The delay in setting off his EPIRB also meant the vessel was further off-shore when he finally alerted emergency services – making the rescue more difficult.
  • Regular operation checks of the VHF maritime radio, especially prior to leaving shore, means a crew is less likely to discover they do not have radio communication when they need it at sea.
  • An EPIRB, or any other locator beacon such as a PLB (personal locator beacon), is a vital piece of equipment to alert emergency services to vessels, planes, helicopters or people in need of rescue or medical aid.
  • In life-threatening situations, owners and users should not hesitate to activate their beacons. This is the only way that RCCNZ is alerted to organise other assistance.
  • Beacons must be registered and up-to-date contact details provided. Registration is a legal requirement. It is free at: beacons.org.nz.
  • If a beacon is registered, RCCNZ can access the registration database when it is activated. The database contains contact details for the owner and emergency contacts that are likely to know further details – for example, the number of people on board a vessel or in a tramping party, and their intended movements.
  • It is vital that owners, masters, and all crew understand the safety procedures outlined in the safety management plan or MTOP for their vessel or operation, and to follow them in an emergency situation.

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