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Jet boat swamped in atrocious conditions

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The Shipowners’ Club has released the following Case Study: Jet boat swamped in atrocious conditions

Despite conditions described by a witness as „heinous‟ and „atrocious‟, a jet boat driver loaded up 17 passengers and took to the water for an adventure ride. The driver had about three years‟ experience in the role, and typically made the same adventure jet boat trip several times a day. It involved leaving a large lake‟s main wharf and travelling upriver into a well-known jet boating river, with many spins and thrills along the way.

After reaching a wide part of the river, the vessels would turn around and return the way they had come. The whole journey typically took about one hour. Passengers were seated in rows, wearing lifejackets, in the open-topped vessel, with the driver stationed at the forward port side. In the early afternoon, the jet boat driver loaded the 17 passengers, including five children, and set out on the journey.
Gale force winds to 60 km per hour had been forecast, and the weather was such that no other commercial vessels in the area were operating. One witness said “the conditions were heinous – they were absolutely atrocious”. Another witness simply said “it was screaming in the bay”.

When the wave passed over the vessel, water entered the engine air intakes which were about head height towards the stern

Despite the conditions, the jet boat driver continued with the trip. On his return journey, the wave heights in the bay were up to about four metres. As he rounded the tip of the more sheltered area to return to the bay, the vessel rode over a large wave, sank into its hollow and slammed into a following wave, about 1.5 metres below the crest. The wave passed completely over the vessel, swamping everything and everyone within it. Water entered the engine air intakes, which were about head height toward the stern. Within moments, one engine suddenly stopped. The driver radioed to another company vessel that was loading up passengers in preparation for the next scheduled trip, and reported the engine failure. The driver was then able to operate the vessel using its remaining engine, and returned the passengers to the marina.
Despite being aware of the event, the other driver set off on the next trip of the day.

 The company‟s safe operating plan stated that commercial trips would not be undertaken in high winds, waves or other conditions that would compromise safety, and that trips would be altered or cancelled
 The driver also had the option to start the trip from a marina in the more sheltered area outside the first bay. Despite the conditions being such that no other company was operating, the driver did not take this opportunity
 It is estimated that the vessel‟s bilge pumps took more than two tons of water off the vessel in the first five minutes – more than enough to sink the vessel, which had been in an area of deep water
 Had the vessel sunk, the passengers would have been spilled into the water, some way from the marina, in conditions that would have put any rescue vessels at risk. A successful rescue would have been by no means certain
 The five children on the jet boat wore buoyancy aids, which were not fitted with crotch straps as required by law. Children can slide out of lifejackets without crotch straps, and in this situation would have been at very real risk of drowning
 The company was convicted and fined as a result of this event.


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