Lessons Learnt: Trio lost at sea

8 November 2016

Three men went boating in Port Phillip Bay, but drowned after their boat capsized.

Following a recently released coroner's report into this June 2015 incident, Maritime Safety Victoria is urging anyone considering a day on the water to understand the risks they may face and to be prepared to manage these risks.

In this case, the boat owner had a boating licence and the vessel was registered, but it was not fit for use in the conditions on that day.  

The boat was in good condition and had been used by the three men for several trips on inland waterways. By its nature, Port Phillip Bay can appear calm where the waters are sheltered from wind but further from shore conditions can be much rougher.

Offshore winds image 

On the day the men went on to the Bay, a gale and high seas warning had been put in place by the Bureau of Meteorology. It is not known if the trio had seen the weather alerts.

The boaters may have been taken off guard by not fully understanding offshore winds and the changeable conditions within the area they were voyaging to.

The boat had a low freeboard which meant the vessel would have been susceptible to quickly becoming swamped in choppy conditions.

The freeboard was further affected by modifications to the boat which increased its weight and reduced the amount of weight it could safely carry. The vessel had been fitted with raised seats that created a higher centre of gravity and caused the vessel to list to one side, both of which reduced the vessel's stability.

Freeboard 

The men all had lifejackets, however two of the men wore Type 2 lifejackets which are not the legally required type for open water, and they were not correctly fastened. Unlike Type 1 lifejackets, Type 2 lifejackets do not have support built in to keep a person's head above water.

The vessel capsized and it was found with its anchor deployed. No alarm from the men was received by rescue services. By the time the men were found, all had drowned.

VESSEL/PERSON/EQUIPMENT PREPARATION

  • All persons who go boating should read and understand the Victorian Recreational Boating Safety Handbook (available to download or order at transportsafety.vic.gov.au/msv). If you are operating a vessel, get a boating licence.
  • Buy a boat suitable for the activities and waters you intend to use it for.
  • Register the vessel and avoid making modifications that could compromise its stability or freeboard.
  • It is not enough simply to have a lifejacket. Make sure you purchase the correct lifejacket for the activity you wish to carry out and the waters you plan to operate on. Visit wearalifejacket.vic.gov.au to try our lifejacket selector.
  • A properly fitted lifejacket should rest on your shoulders and be snug around your midriff. It should be suitable for your weight and it is recommended to have a crotch strap or stirrups to stop it rising over your head in the water.
  • Make sure you have all the necessary safety equipment for your type of vessel and activity.

TRIP PREPARATION

  • Victoria's weather is fickle, and Melbourne in particular, is known for having four seasons in a day, so we encourage anyone heading onto the water to keep an eye on detailed forecasts. Check out our video: How to access and understand marine weather forecasts using the Bureau of Meteorology's MetEye service.
  • If the weather is not looking suitable, be prepared to cancel your plans.             
  • Look at the area you plan to operate in and understand any local dangers including the effects of the forecast wind speed and wind direction. Boaters need to know the limits of wind speed and wave heights they and their vessel can handle so they don't end up in trouble.
  • Before setting out, make sure you tell friends and family where you are going and when you expect to return to shore (link to picture of fridge magnet) and what to do if you don't.
  • Confirm your vessel is 'fit for purpose' for the activity you are undertaking and the water you are boating on.
  • Ensure inflatable lifejackets are regularly serviced.
  • Ensure all required safety equipment is onboard, is accessible, is in good condition, and is not 'date expired'.
  • Work out how you can raise an alarm if it becomes necessary. Consider carrying a personal location beacon (PLB) or emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) and flares even if not required to do so under the regulations. Find out more at transportsafety.vic.gov.au/msv/beacons

DURING A VOYAGE

  • Make sure your safety equipment is within easy reach.
  • Ensure all on board know where safety equipment is and how to use it.
  • Wear your correctly fitted lifejacket if your vessel is less than 4.8m long and/or you are operating in any condition of heightened risk.
  • Keep your phone in a waterproof pouch and have it ready to dial 000.
  • Carry an EPIRB or PLB so you are able to send a distress signal.
  • If the conditions are getting rough, return to shore.

IN AN EMERGENCY

  • Stay with your vessel so you can be spotted by rescuers and alert marine rescue authorities.           
  • Victorian waters remain cold throughout the year. If you fall into the water it will take
       - one minute or two to regain control of your breathing (a lifejacket will bring you to the surface and keep you afloat while you do this).
       - 10 minutes for your fingers to lose dexterity and feeling. Get back in the boat or raise the alarm with rescue services before the cold makes it impossible to use your hands.
       - one hour before you become too cold or tired to keep your head out of the water (only a Type 1 lifejacket will do this for you). With a Type 1 lifejacket on, you only have about four hours survival time before hypothermia sets in.
  • Call 000 for help and activate your distress beacon early.