Powerboat runs into kayaker

Lookout! Issue 38, July 2018

The elderly skipper of a powerboat failed to keep a proper lookout and ran his four-metre aluminum vessel into a double sea kayak.
Whiteboard notice saves fishermen.

The sea kayak was one of a group of four double kayaks on a three-day trip in the Marlborough Sounds on a sunny summer day.

The group was made up of two families in four double kayaks, with children sitting in the front cockpits.

A woman in the rear cockpit of a double sea kayak was injured when the powerboat rode up on the back of the craft, damaging the kayak’s rudder.

She suffered bruising to her arm and head, and the kayak needed to be replaced by the hire company so they could continue their journey to a Department of Conservation campsite.

The skipper operating the powerboat was distracted from keeping a proper lookout as he was having difficulties with his 20 horse power outboard motor. He reported that there was condensation in the fuel.

The skipper has many years’ experience operating vessels in the Marlborough Sounds, and both he and his wife (who was also onboard) believe they are safe vessel operators. When something unexpected drew their attention however, they failed to keep a proper lookout as required by Maritime Rule 22.5.

They did not realise the kayaking party was in their path immediately before the incident.

This was complicated by the fact that their powerboat is operated from the rear with a solid aluminum dodger, or canopy, obstructing the view ahead when the driver sits to steer.

Adults in the kayaking party became concerned as the powerboat travelled towards them.

The injured person made the following comment to Maritime NZ:

“I think the buoyancy aid I was wearing took most of the impact and the boat pushed me forward so I was doubled over lying flat on the kayak.

My husband was upset – a family friend of his had been killed in a similar accident – and was shouting at the occupants of the speedboat to get off my kayak.

The speedboat should have given way to us. I don’t think they saw us at all. lf they had been going faster it could’ve been a lot worse with far greater injury and damage.”

Maritime NZ investigated the incident and considered prosecuting the skipper. However, due to a number of factors, the skipper was instead issued a written warning to keep a proper lookout.


  • It is the skipper’s legal responsibility to ensure someone is keeping a proper lookout when vessels are on the water.
  • This skipper could have ensured that his wife was acting as lookout while he focused his attention on the outboard motor.
  • When the outboard motor issue was not immediately resolved, the skipper should have taken the motor out of gear. This would stop the vessel from taking off, if the engine was acting erratically.
  • This incident could easily have resulted in more serious injuries, especially if the vessel had been travelling faster. When powerboats collide with swimmers, kayakers, water skiers and divers the consequences can be fatal.

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