Just a few days after a Toia tug boat collided with Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth in New Zealand during the nautical celebration known as Open Day, a report has revealed that maritime safety in that nation is seriously lacking. The report found that powerboat accidents are New Zealand’s number one maritime recreational killer, with an estimated 1 in 10 boats inspected by police failing to follow proper maritime laws and safety standards.
According to a Wellington Harbour maritime patrol officer, the problem lies in the fact that many boaters are not fully aware of the rules they must abide by. Boaters are not carrying with them adequate communication technology, are not wearing lifejackets and don’t even know what the weather forecast is before sailing.
“That’s irresponsible boating. They’re ruining it for the rest of boaties who are pretty good,” said Senior Sergeant Dave Houston of two jet skiers who were recently reprimanded for violating another maritime rule – speeding. “They obviously didn’t know the rules.”
Water Safety New Zealand (WSNZ) has called for compulsory skipper education courses to hopefully reduce the risk of accidents caused by boater inexperience, but aside from knowing the nation’s maritime laws, it doesn’t take an education course to know that boaters should not be speeding or going out on the water without life jackets.
WSNZ explains that the number of recreational boaters who have been killed in accidents involving motored crafts is “shockingly” high. Last year, 20 boaters drowned in powerboat-related accidents, accounting for nearly 40% of the 83 total drowning last year. Furthermore, there has been an alarming 150% increase in the number of boating fatalities in the past five years in New Zealand alone.
Although powered boating is a popular pastime for New Zealanders, something must be done about improving safety standards to lower the number of fatalities that are being reported.
According to maritime authorities, a large percentage of the boating fatalities are attributed to intoxication. Currently, police breath testing for alcohol intoxication is voluntary in New Zealand, however, one in five drownings has been related to alcohol consumption.
Here in the U.S., things are not much better. The U.S. Coast Guard reports that the majority of recreational boating fatalities here (70 percent) were the result of drowning, and 84 percent of those victims were not wearing life jackets.
Much like in New Zealand, the Coast Guard found that the leading cause of boating accident fatalities in the U.S. was alcohol. In 2011 alone, 125 boaters were killed because the operator of the vessel they were riding in was under the influence of alcohol.
Despite the many studies that have demonstrated the dangers of Boating Under the Influence (BUI) boaters continue to place not only their own lives at risk, but also those of innocent bystanders. While penalties for BUI are extremely serious, comparable to those of driving an automobile while under the influence of alcohol, the message doesn’t seem to get across to boaters.
New Zealand’s Transport Accident Commission is pushing for a new law that would introduce a limit on the amount of alcohol boaters can consume. However, what good are laws if boaters continue to break them? National maritime law requires boaters to store life jackets on their vessels, but not everyone abides by this rule. WSNZ wants to take the legislation further by requiring boaters to actually wear their lifejackets, but the odds of boater compliance is likely to be slim.
Improving maritime safety should be a concern of not just New Zealand and the United States, but a collective effort by all nations that have access to boating within their borders. Perhaps the time has come for boat manufacturer’s to be looked at as potential defendant’s in boating accidents.
The technology exists to prevent intoxicated individuals from being able to Captain vessels and arguably to insure that everyone on board has a life jacket and is wearing it before the vessel can start up.
Each boating accident lawyer here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. has represented far too many people who have been hurt in accidents on the high seas, as well as the loved ones of those who have been killed by another boater or as a result of a cruise line’s negligence. Anyone who has been hurt in a maritime accident should seek legal help for purposes of evaluating their case and to protect their rights, especially if alcohol was a factor in the incident.
Powerboat Accident – pelauts.com
Life Jacket – uscgboating.org