Alcohol contributes to drowning

A fisherman drowned after falling out of a dinghy about 100 metres from shore.

His blood alcohol was more than twice the legal limit for driving and he was not wearing a lifejacket.

The fisherman had rowed out in the dinghy to retrieve set nets in a harbour, while a companion remained on the shore.

The fisherman was hauling in a net when his companion saw him topple into the sea. The dinghy floated away and the fisherman was left clinging to an oar.

an empty steel dingy with a paddle onboard parked on a back yard lawn
Maritime NZ
Small dinghies become unstable when weight is shifted away from the centre of the vessel.

The companion raised the alarm and a rescue helicopter sighted the fisherman and guided the Coastguard rescue vessel to his location. In total, the fisherman was in the water for about 40 minutes.

He was pulled out of the water unconscious and CPR efforts by the crew of the rescue vessel, and the ambulance officers waiting on shore failed.


Safety points

  • Alcohol was a contributing factor in this fatality. It affects judgement and reduces the ability to balance. Further, alcohol causes the blood vessels to dilate, which results in rapid cooling of the body, resulting in loss of muscle strength and drowning soon after immersion. Hypothermia onset is also accelerated.
  • Many small dinghies of this size are not suitable for set netting. They become unstable when weight is shifted away from the centre of the vessel, and particularly so when a person stands up. They are lightly constructed and drift quickly away from a person in the water.
  • This fisherman was not wearing a lifejacket. This would have kept him afloat, and would have also served as a brightly coloured marker and made it easier for the rescue vessel to spot him in the water.