Prosecution a reminder, recreational skippers’ must take simple steps to prevent collisions

22 November 2023

The sentencing of a recreational skipper in the Christchurch District Court yesterday afternoon [Tuesday, November 21] is a reminder to skippers of recreational boats - there are simple steps they must take to prevent collisions and keep others safe.

The sentencing followed a collision between a recreational power boat and a kayak in Lyttelton on 14 January 2023.

The skipper of the power boat did not operate the vessel as required under Part 22 of the Maritime Rules, causing the collision with a kayak and serious injuries to the paddler.

Maritime NZ’s Manager General Regulatory Operations South, John Drury says the Maritime Rules to prevent collisions are practical ways to help keep all vessels - and the people on them - safe. All recreational (and commercial) skippers must understand them.

The Maritime Rules include: keeping a proper look out at all times, travelling at safe speed, using all available means to determine if there is a risk of collision, and powered vessels keeping out of the way of vessels under oars or sail. This means taking account of the harbour conditions, adjusting your speed and ensuring you can see adequately in front of you - particularly when you know there are a high number of recreational water users in the area.

"You can’t assume it is safe but instead, you must make sure it is safe," Mr Drury says.

"Always keep a proper look out, and if there is any doubt, then the skipper must act as if they might collide with another boat or a swimmer in the water - slow down, be ready to stop, and power boats give way."

Maritime NZ recommends those heading out on the water undertake a day skipper’s course, understand the Maritime Rules and local bylaws and fully understand how to manage the vessels they are in charge of.

The collision prevention and navigation Maritime Rules can be found on the Maritime NZ website, and local bylaws are published by the local regional authority.

Sentencing notes

Last month, the skipper of the power boat pleaded guilty to one charge under section 65 of the Maritime Transport Act of operating his power boat in a manner that caused unnecessary danger or risk.

Yesterday, the court sentenced him to a $5,200 fine and ordered him to pay $13,473 reparation. In doing so, the Judge noted the significant injuries suffered by the victim, the risk of more serious harm occurring, and the inherent vulnerability of small craft water users.

The Judge also acknowledged the skipper’s guilty plea, his remorse and the steps he took immediately after the incident to assist the victim, including applying his maritime knowledge and taking the victim directly to the boat ramp where an ambulance was able to meet them.

Incident summary

The collision occurred at about 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. The conditions were sunny, with a moderate breeze of around 15 knots, and waves of about 20cm. The harbour was busy with other recreational users, typical of a mid-summer weekend in Lyttelton.

The 7.4m power boat was travelling at round 18 knots (33 kmph) with two people on board returning from a fishing trip.

Four kayakers in three kayaks were paddling west towards Governor’s Bay. The group was spread out, padding in white kayaks wearing high visibility clothing. The skipper of the powerboat did not see the kayakers and collided with the victim directly. 

The skipper immediately stopped his powerboat and provided assistance to the badly injured victim, transporting him to the nearby boat ramp where an ambulance met them.  

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