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MAIB: Fatal High Speed Collision Shows Need for Tour Boat Rules

high speed boat crash
Courtesy MAIB

Published May 23, 2021 10:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

In the wake of a fatal collision on Southampton Water, the UK's Marine Accident Investigation Branch is warning high-speed tourboat operators to heed their industry's voluntary code of conduct and ensure the safety of their passengers. 

On August 22, tour boat operator Seadogz Rib Charter Ltd. dispatched the rigid inflatable Seadogz on a routine commercial tour. The boat departed the Ocean Village Marina at about 0945 that morning with 11 passengers on board.

After performing a series of high-speed figure-eights around navigational buoys in the harbor, the skipper headed back up the channel in order to tail an outbound ferry, passing back and forth to jump the larger vessel's wake. Exiting one of these maneuvers at a speed of about 38 knots, the skipper navigated the RIB into the North-West Netley buoy, a five-tonne steel marker measuring about ten feet in diameter by 15 feet high.

Upon impact, the bow of the boat was tossed upward and all on board were thrown violently forward by the rapid deceleration. Everyone on board (save for one passenger) sustained injuries, including broken limbs, fractured vertebrae, dislocations and a punctured lung. Emily Lewis, a 15-year-old passenger who was sitting just forward of the pilot house, was fatally injured. 

The boat itself sustained extensive damage. The forward three sections of the buoyancy tubes on Seadogz's port side were punctured and the bow of its fiberglass hull was severely damaged. Several of the steel framed seatbacks were bent forward by the force of passengers hitting them.

Based on the initial investigation, the casualty likely occurred because the skipper was concentrating on high speed maneuvers near to the ferry and did not see the buoy in time to avoid it. Though his passengers could have warned him of the hazard, they had become used to traveling close to buoys at speed during the ride; they did not consider the collision course to be a sign of danger and did not alert the skipper.

According to MAIB, few of the safe working practices in the UK's high-speed ride industry code of practice were being followed on the casualty voyage. In particular: 

• High speed figure-of-eight turns increase the risk of the RIB hooking or spinning-out.
• The skipper was operating single-handedly at high speed and did not see the navigation buoy, which was directly ahead, for 10 seconds before impact.
• Crossing the ferry’s wake at high speed increased both the risk of the passengers suffering spinal injuries and of the RIB coming close to a craft or object previously obscured from view by the ferry’s hull, leaving the skipper little time in which to react.

Though Seadogz Rib Charter Ltd. has ceased operations, the practices on display during the casualty voyage are not uncommon in the industry, MAIB said.

"These rides can provide excitement, entertainment and fun, and for this reason they are popular. However, this dreadful accident saw nine people sustain very serious injuries and tragically cost the life of a young person. As the holiday season approaches, I want to remind operators that they also have a duty of care for their passengers, and safety should not be compromised in pursuit of a thrill," said MAIB Chief Inspector Captain Andrew Moll (RN).