DOC Instructed To Update Skipper Guidelines Following Boat Crash

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

When an accident at sea takes place, authorities are called in to investigate whether the cause of the incident is a lack of safety. Our maritime accident lawyers at Lipcon have represented many injured victims who were hurt because of someone’s negligence or because a vessel lacked the appropriate safety protocols. Following a boat accident in the Marlborough Sounds last year, the Department of Conservation (DOC) has been instructed to update the national guidelines for its skippers.

The maritime accident involved one of the DOC’s vessels crashing into a yacht in the Marlborough Sounds, in New Zealand. Following an investigation, the DOC was found to lack structured training and supervision for its skippers who hold commercial maritime licenses. A report by Maritime New Zealand explained the DOC failed to follow its own ship management system for safety regarding its assessment of skippers. Because they failed to follow proper safety protocols, they may be found liable for the incident and a lawsuit may be filed against them by the other party involved in the collision.

According to the report, the Conservation Department catamaran Waitohi collided with the recreational Herreshoff yacht Atua in October, 2011 near Bull Head in Queen Charlotte Sound. The two vessels were travelling in opposite directions when the Waitohi, an 8.5-meter boat, which was travelling at about 20 knots, suddenly veered to the left and crashed into the Atua at a right angle. The Atua was on its way back to Waikawa Bay from Resolution Bay, travelling about four knots.

The skipper of the Waitohi, which is based in Picton, suffered a concussion and was transported to an area hospital to receive treatment. The skipper of the Atua was not hurt, but his yacht was irreparably damaged.

The actual cause of the collision remains unknown. According to Maritime New Zealand’s report on the incident, the vessels were passing each other safely just moments before the crash. The report stated: “The hull of Waitohi may have broached on a wave, causing a sudden lurch to port. This may have caused the skipper to be knocked over, hitting his head on the chart-plotter and buckling the steering wheel.” However, there was not enough evidence following the accident for authorities to come to an accurate conclusion of what happened.

The Department of Conservation skipper involved in the crash did not remember the events that led up to the accident. He had held his commercial launchmaster license since 1987, but had not been formerly assessed of his competency. Maritime New Zealand explained skippers had some training, but it was not formal nor was it well documented. Atua’s skipper also held a commercial launchmaster license. He may have been able to file a claim against the DOC for negligence and may have been able to claim damages for his injuries and property damage.

Maritime New Zealand recommended that DOC monitor its skippers regularly and document any operations on vessels over 6 meters long. They also recommended that the department carry out routine auditing of its safe ship management systems, as well as consider single-man operational areas for risk analysis and lanyard use.