The conviction today of a recreational jet boat driver following a fatal accident highlights the dangers of poor decision-making and skippers departing from established safe practice, says Maritime New Zealand (MNZ).
MNZ Manager of Investigations, Steve van der Splinter, said there were safety lessons for all recreational jet boat drivers following today’s conviction and sentence of Dunedin skipper Jeffrey William Donaldson.
MNZ began an investigation after the jet boat skippered by Mr Donaldson struck a shingle bar on the Matukituki River east of Wanaka on 26 December 2008 and flipped, killing British doctor Paul Woods and injuring two other passengers.
In the Invercargill District Court, sitting in Dunedin this week before a jury and Judge Jane Farish, Mr Donaldson reversed an earlier plea of not guilty and admitted a charge of “operating a vessel in a manner causing unnecessary danger or risk” under Section 65(1)(a) of the Maritime Transport Act 1994. The change of plea came at the conclusion of evidence presented by the Crown. He was today convicted, fined $2,500 and ordered to pay reparations to the Woods’ family of $25,000.
“All jet boat skippers can learn from this tragedy,” MNZ Manager of Investigations Steve van der Splinter said. “It highlights that no matter how experienced a skipper may be, poor decision-making and not following established safe practice can have devastating consequences, particularly on narrow and shallow rivers where there is little room for error.”
Mr van der Splinter said Mr Donaldson made critical errors of judgement that had caused the accident. These included diverting his course from the deeper and safer water of the main channel of the river where he had a clearer view of what was ahead, to instead take a path down a narrower, shallower and less visible section of water, in a boat loaded with passengers.
On realising this was not a safe option, instead of slowing down, keeping the boat straight and letting it come to a stop on the gravel, which was accepted good practice, he turned sideways at speed across an expanse of shingle and very shallow water.
The manoeuvre – well known in jet-boating circles as unsafe – caused the boat to “dig in” to the gravel and flip. Dr Woods was killed instantly when the boat rolled over him.
“By his own admission, had the skipper simply slowed down and held a straight course, the boat would have come to a stop and the accident could have been avoided,” Mr van der Splinter said.
“This tragedy brings home just how quickly things can go tragically wrong, even by departing from accepted safe practice just for a moment. It’s our hope that the lesson other boaties will take out of this tragedy is that if there is any doubt about the safety of a particular manoeuvre or course of action, they just shouldn’t do it.
“We would like to particularly acknowledge the Woods family, who weren’t able to be here for the hearing, and we extend our sympathies for their loss. We also acknowledge the other victims who were affected by this tragedy.”